Members of my congregation poured out their stories after the recent discoveries at Canada’s residential schools. Here’s why we all should be listening.
A month ago, the remains of 215 indigenous children, some as young as 3 years old, were uncovered in British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province. The discovery came through the persistent prayers and consorted effort of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation who wanted to know why so many of their children never returned home from the Kamloops Indian Residential School that operated there from 1890 to 1978.
The people of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc have known for generations that their children had likely died at the hands of those who ran the schools, Christian people charged with their care and education. Chief Rosanne Casimir called it “an unthinkable loss that was spoken about, but never documented.” In most cases, these children died without family members being informed.
These children were among the estimated 150,000 First Nation, Métis, and Inuit children in Canada who were separated from their families and forced to attend residential schools. From their inception in the mid 1800s to their final closure in the late 1990s, these 139 schools were “created for the purpose of separating Aboriginal [First Nation, Metis, and Inuit] children from their families in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate children into a new culture—the culture of the legally dominant Euro-Christian Canadian society,” according to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a 2015 document on the horrific legacy of residential schools.
The report gave voice to myriad forms of abuse, torture, and trauma endured by the children in these schools. To date, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has identified …