"... holding the spirits of the little ones, and I have been doing that, I did that through the rest of the days of commission, ... I've had that call from the children with me, throughout these days of this week, and I spent particular time these past days ...with my own grandchildren, talking with them, doing sacred actives with them, speaking of the children ... the responsibility to keep the memories of these children alive and to keep the knowledge of this history alive.
These are little children. I look to my grandchildren always to remind myself that when we think about survivors today we see very often elders speaking to us, and it is so easy to forget that these were children. These are adult bodies talking about things that happened to them as children.
We have to stop paying lip service in our country .. politicians and others saying children are our most import resource....
- Marie Wilson, Commissioner, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Genocide is a word with weight. Perhaps it can be used politically, but indeed we collectively do understand when mass slaughter and cultural eradication has occurred.
Canada is - at some level - aware that its history involves a genocide. Perhaps it is nuanced, but this history is indeed a crime against humanity. This is a simple fact. Oh, and (once again) the Catholic Church is entirely complicit.
The residential school system in Canada spanned over 100 years. Its purpose (however justified) was to 'civilize' First Nations peoples. Children were ripped from their families, beaten, raped and killed. If they spoke their own language, or expressed any of their own culture, they were beaten and starved. These are truths.
Were some of the people involved kind? Perhaps. The net result was trauma and abuse - a genocide.
If these facts were not already abundantly clear, the uncovering of 215 unmarked graves by the Kamloops Indian Residential School is an open wound and the tip of a proverbial iceberg. It is hard to imagine the pain felt by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and all indigenous communities across the world's second largest political jurisdiction.
The Catholic Church ran the school - as it did many - and the Pope has once again failed to apologize.
This is Canada's shame and needs to be addressed and respected with the same vigour as war memorials and the Covid crisis.
As for the church, these crimes continue to pile up. I have been open about the fact that my father, too, was a victim of Catholic abuse (in a boarding school). Until his last years he would wake with night terrors from that abuse. At least he wasn't torn from his family and was able to overcome the cycle of violence instilled by that institution.
First Nations, Metis and Inuit people have had to endure continued systemic racism in addition to the overt cultural genocide of the residential school system.
It is important for me to acknowledge, and own, the fact that I grew up hearing racial slurs toward our indigenous brothers and sisters. This continues to occur. If most Canadians - however open and progressive - take an honest look inside, we are a successful country living on the legacy of colonization and genocide.
And in no way is the French tradition in North America exempt from this overt crime. Recently a First Nations woman in Quebec streamed her painful death at a regional hospital while being berated by racial slurs.
If our collective call for human rights means anything, it is time to speak openly, respectfully and honestly. And then it is time to spend - whatever it takes - (the Catholic Church must pay too) - to finally reach out to the first inhabitants of this land and build a meaningful future together.
And to say sorry. This is real, recent and inexcusable. This is genocide and it is not ancient history.