I shouldn’t talk. Here in the US we have our own funny way of celebrating a patriotic holiday: “Hey, let’s set off a lot of explosions and set fires and terrify our pets!” In Canada, though, it’s “Hey, let’s go poke around the church school and find the dead bodies of Indian children!”
You guessed it: another 182 mysterious shallow graves have been discovered on the grounds of a residential school.
A First Nation in B.C.’s South Interior says 182 unmarked grave sites have been discovered near the location of a former residential school.
The community of ʔaq̓am, one of four bands in the Ktunaxa Nation and located near the city of Cranbrook, B.C., used ground-penetrating radar to search a site close to the former St. Eugene’s Mission School, the Lower Kootenay Band announced Wednesday.
In a statement, the ʔaq̓am band said it began searching the area for burial sites after finding an unknown, unmarked grave during remedial work around the ʔaq̓am cemetery last year. The cemetery is adjacent to the former school.
Preliminary results from that investigation found 182 burial sites. The statement said the graves were shallow — about a metre deep — and within the cemetery grounds.
Come on, Canada. You have to learn from your sister nation to the south. We keep our atrocities on the down low, and our legislators work night and day to bury our history. When you murder masses of small children, you have to dig the graves much deeper, and cover them over with a heavy layer of excuses.
I wouldn’t call it a mass murder, these children didn’t die at the same time. Rather what happened was the result of years of neglect, contempt and frankly the authorities, both the church and the governmental ones, simply didn’t care. It didn’t fit in with their ideology. When combined with some fundamental ignorance on what happens when you take children from relatively isolated places like Pukatawagan Manitoba and expose them to various pathogens etc., you end up with a situation like this.
Not a mass murder, but a reprehensible state of things. I think however Canada is doing this right, There have been acknowledgements of culpability from both the Federal and Provincial governments, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the United Church. There has been compensation and restitution made available in the hundreds of millions of dollars. What is happening now is the discovery of how extensive these unmarked graves are, and the contempt that the Catholic church held for the First Nations. For instance In the Saskatchewan case, most if not all the graves had markers and were recorded. A fanatic priest came in and decided on his how that since these children were primitive heathens they didn’t deserve grave markers and grave registrations. More evidence of the fundamental evil of the Catholic church.
Reports say that the graves were often just 2-3 feet deep, so they aren’t literally or metaphorically buried that deep. But it remained largely unknown to settlers until now. What does that say about us?
So, more of a serial manslaughter kind of a thing?
Marcus Ranum says
Hey, separation of church and state is a great idea!
@ 3 Grace
more of a serial manslaughter kind of a thing
Yes. I do not think the Gov’t of Canada wanted to kill children. They were definitely intent on cultural genocide in the late 1800s and in much of the 1900s.
They may not have wanted to kill the children, but they weren’t particularly concerned with preventing their deaths.
I ran across a Buzzfeed video yesterday, “We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage” about catholic abuses and atrocities in the US. In the 1990s in Canada, the physical, mental and sexual abuses at Mount Cashel came to light. In both cases, the raped, abused and murdered orphaned children were white.
Now imagine all of this combined with racism, in a place that devalued the children’s humanity (the “take the indian out of them” mentality), where abuse was normalized and encouraged, and there was no accountability. It’s very easy to understand how “residential schools” justified their crimes and excused their own actions.
As I saw several places on Thursday:
“If old nazis can stand trial in their 90s, so can those priests and nuns.”
I think a key sticking point is many/most/all the Catholic organizations running these schools have not given up the records indicating who died, was buried and when and where (assuming such records still exist). Other religious groups running these schools (Catholic schools predominated but there were also others) have generally cooperated with the First Nations in releasing records (if the records still existed). They have also mostly paid compensation (something the Catholic organizations have mostly evaded). And apologized by going to First Nations official groups on their space and apologizing in person.
It is known that at least 3,201 children died (lower bound, it is also known that many deaths are not accounted for). Note also this knowledge is not new. Back in 1922 Peter Bryce who had been the Chief Medical Officer of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Canada published “The Story of a National Crime: Being a Record of the Health Conditions of the Indians of Canada from 1904 to 1921” (his reports while CMO had been suppressed).
While I have no doubt that neglect and abuse played a part in some of those deaths, I suspect many of them were also due to diseases that we now have vaccinations for, eg. measles, mumps, pertussis, polio, etc.
I suspect the church/school buried them on site to both cover up the horrible conditions at the schools, as well as for financial fraud, since schools are often funded by the number of students they have.
Regardless we need to perform autopsies, and examine the school’s records (Why the delays in releasing them Catholic church???), before we can conclude mass murder.
A major killer in these schools was tuberculosis (which probably killed some of the staff also). Also the Canadian government was tight fisted when paying for these schools so burial on site was probably seen as a necessary cost saving measure given that the limited funds weren’t even paying for reasonable food and shelter (not notifying parents, etc was a separate nastier issue). Note I have browsed through the Truth and Reconciliation report on the history up to 1939 (see https://nctr.ca/records/reports/ for all the reports). It has some info on the US system also.
Tabby Lavalamp says
There has been a spate of Catholic churches being torched since the news of the graves came to light and there has been more consternation in certain circles about the burnings than the graves, even among those who claim to be just as outraged about the graves as the rest of us.
I don’t celebrate the burnings, but I understand them and don’t consider the people doing it as wrongdoers. There is going to be no real justice for the dead victims of genocide. The best that can be hoped for is a “truth and reconciliation” commission and a meaningless apology. The church is dragging its heels on providing records and there is no real motivation in the government to force them. At the same time as the government mews out a half-hearted “We’re sorry,” they re also forcing pipelines on Indigenous lands, ignoring treaties when it’s more convenient to do so, and there are reservations that still don’t have clean drinking water and are facing an ongoing suicide crisis.
I can’t shed a tear over a burned down building when there is going to be no other justice. For the most part vigilantism is a bad thing, but what else are people supposed to do when the colonial state fails them over and over and over and over again?
In many cases, the graves were shallow because they were dug by other children. The clergy (not all of these were Catholic, it should be noted) made the kids bury their own, a horrifying truth that has allowed the survivors to find some of these bodies, remembering where they were forced to dig the graves. Yes, there would have been a lot of death from disease, but this was a hideous policy that stripped the children of everything they were and left them in the hands of people who would abuse them, rape them, murder them… It is disgusting, and it was all the idea of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s nifty first prime minister and notable white supremacist, intended to “kill the indian in the child”. When residential schools began to look embarrassing, they cancelled the program and replaced it with the Sixties Scoop and Birth Alerts, where Child and Family Services would remove children from their homes. Indigenous children were and are more valuable to foster families (who are almost always white folks living in the city) than any other group. A fine example of systemic racism, birth alerts do not specifically call for removal of indigenous children, but indigenous children are terrifyingly overrepresented. Also, the number of dead is now over 1500 from 7 residential schools in total. There were something like 150 residential schools. Worth noting, the families of these children were primarily told that their child had run away.