Content warning: Residential schools, mass graves

While many would like to think of 2021 as the year the world turned the tide on Covid-19, here in Canada and across Turtle Island a far more significant change came over us all:

This was the year Canada could longer hide from its past.

I’m talking about the horrifying discoveries of the remains of children at residential school sites across Canada. What began with 215 bodies found in Kamloops quickly exploded into mass graves being found everywhere — and still being found. As of writing, there are 1,874 dead children awaiting justice for the crimes of the Canadian government.

Across the border into the United States, searches are now underway to find the victims of the American side of the state-sanctioned violence. Exactly how many are buried is still to be determined, but estimates put the U.S. death count at over 40,000 children.

Prior to 2021, many Canadians were ignorant of the horrors their fellow Canadians endured. There was little to no mention of it in the education system.

But now, no one can claim they don’t know something really, really bad happened in their name.

So what do we about it?

Reconciliation needs to be front and centre of all Canadian policies going forward. There are hundreds, if not thousands of communities that have been severely damaged by colonialism on either side of the border. Each and every one of them needs mental and financial support to repair the damage. Certainly any apology would carry a lot more weight if it came with an offer to help with capital costs. As mentioned previously, Indigenous people did not create the residential school system nor did they ask for it, so they should not be the ones paying to clean up the mess.

But there are far simpler and more immediate actions the Canadian government can take to show First Nations across the country it is serious about reconciliation. A frequently called for action is to stop fighting residential school survivors in court. This could be accomplished by establishing a proper system for survivors to make claims, without having to relive the experience in a court of law or convince the government of what it already knows.

A second significant step would be to back off from the unceded territories of the Wet’suwet’en in British Columbia, where fresh footage of RCMP officers in military camouflage pointing rifles at what appear to be unarmed protesters on their own land surfaces every few months. Many journalists have also been detained trying to do their jobs in the area. An outside observer would probably call it for what it is — an armed invasion for control of resources.

Canada cannot begin to claim it is serious about reconciliation when there are active efforts to force people off their land using violence, just so predominantly-white oil and gas tycoons can get richer. Until the federal government withdraws its troops from Wet’suwet’en lands, First Nations are right to view any olive branches with suspicion.

Eric Bowling

Your source for all things happening in the Beaufort Delta. Eric jumped at the chance to write for the Inuvik Drum after cutting his teeth in Alberta. He enjoys long walks, loud music and strong coffee....

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.