Every Child Matters - Remembering those who survived residential schools and those who didn't

the 215

CW: mass murder of children, child sexual assault, systemic racism

I am not one of the Canadians who deny that the genocide we inflicted on indigenous people happened. Recently the remains of 215 children were found at one of hundreds of former residential school sites. These schools were sanctioned by the government, and staffed by one of two mainline churches, Catholic or Anglican until fairly recently. The remains were found in my home province.

I grew up playing basketball against girls who lived in residential schools.

Tonight, I went to a ceremony put on by indigenous people in my neighbourhood to recognize the uncovering of this evidence. Survivors of the ‘residential schools’ as they are called here, have been talking about the deaths by starvation, lack of medical care, disease and abuse at these child detention centres for indigenous children for decades. I knew that the staff of these schools had a mandate to force these children to lose their language and culture, their ties with their families, and that they sexually assaulted, starved and abused them. I know this from survivors, and I believe them, and now those survivors have proof in the form of child remains. Did your elementary school have a cemetary? Mine didn’t.

I stayed silent for most of the ceremony, because it’s not about me. I was just there, in my orange shirt, to be one white person who cares, in solidarity.

The ceremony was part resistance and honouring, and part victory celebration. I can relate. The complex mix of feelings connected to finally having proof of an abuse that the larger culture would like you to shut up about and forget is something I understand.

I too, as a child, survived at least one murder attempt, at least one rape, and a lifetime of people telling me to shut up and get over it, in all the ways. I too survived negative stereotypes about people like me, people with my experiences.

I’m a woman, I had that abuse compounded with daily sexism.

But I’m a white person. I didn’t have that compounded with daily racism.

It was my own parents who assaulted and tried to kill me. These children’s parents wanted them back desperately, and were tortured by having their own children taken away and tortured, and then we did it to the next generation of kids, and the next.

It’s heinous.

I did not cry until I was riding my bike home, full of all the energies and resonance, both a part of this and not a part of this. I recognize that these children are my family, not survivors, because they didn’t survive, but my kin, living and dead, who have been abused as children. When there is a side to be on, I’m on their side, and I want justice for them. At the same time, the people who kidnapped and murdered them are much more literally my kin. I could imagine my father, my father’s family, who were devout Anglicans, believing the lies that allowed them to justify stealing and detaining children in the concentration camps they called schools. I love my grandmother, but I know that she would not have had the knowledge and analysis to do otherwise.

I have an indigenous friend whose white ancestors on her father’s side committed genocide against her indigenous ancestors on her mother’s side.

I have feelings about the honour that people today were paying to those who had survived and those who had not. It is good and healthy and strong to pay honour to surivors and the fallen, and we need more of it. I did not express those feelings at the ceremony, because that is not what I was there for, that was not my place. I am doing it here instead.

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