Saskatchewan·First Person

The residential school system is more than just 'a dark period in Canadian history'

The past is catching up to the present. It is offering non-Indigenous Canadians a glimpse of what their country has done to Indigenous Canadians in the past and still does today.

Canadians are not ready for what's coming, writes Robert Doucette

A memorial on Parliament Hill to the children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Brian Morris/CBC)

This First Person piece is by Robert Doucette, the former president of the Métis Nation — Saskatchewan.

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WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

The past is catching up to the present. It is offering non-Indigenous Canadians a glimpse of what their country has done to Indigenous Canadians in the past and still does today.

The discovery of what are believed to be the remains of hundreds of children at a former residential school in Kamloops are one example of the brutality that organized religion and the Canadian federal and provincial governments have wrought on our children. The aforementioned parties have largely kept quiet about this, hoped no one would find the graves and prayed the issue would go away.

In Indigenous communities, there were hushed conversations about what might have happened to our missing children. In northwest Saskatchewan, for example, our elders said there were baby skeletons found in the walls of the Beauval Indian Residential School when they tore it down. Similarly, the graveyard at the Regina Industrial School contains our children.

These examples are the tip of the iceberg. The full iceberg, which is an understanding it was genocide, is floating on the horizon. Canadians are not ready for what's coming.

There will be more

It seems clear that colonial governments and the Church realized that to really crush a people, all you have to do is destroy their families by taking their children. Indigenous children have been taken for generations through residential schools, day schools and the Sixties Scoop. During these phases of colonization our children have been physically and sexually assaulted, mentally abused and murdered, either through neglect or outright murder. 

Regina Haasjes with her grandson Marcus, 3, of the Tla-O-Qui-Aht First Nation, pay their respects below the steps outside B.C.'s legislature in Victoria on Tuesday. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Be assured that as this issue moves forward there will be thousands of other graves of Indigenous children found across Canada.

What are the responses from the government officials and organized religions in this age of reconciliation? Federal officials act surprised and feed the same rhetoric and lines they have been using for years ad nauseam. "It is a dark period in Canadian history."

I ask all Canadians, wouldn't you be seeking justice if this happened to your children? If Canada and other world governments look for and actively prosecute people who murder Indigenous populations in other countries, why are federal and provincial governments not doing the same to people or organizations that have abused, injured or even murdered Indigenous children here?

Justice systems deny justice

I'm almost 60 years old now, a Sixties Scoop survivor. My wife is a day school and Indian residential school survivor and her parents were also residential school survivors. Every day we see and experience how Indigenous Canadians relive the moments of mental cruelty, sexual and physical abuse, and intergenerational trauma that came with being separated from their families. 

As a Métis sixty scoop survivor, I know how reconciliation works in Canada. To this day, while our First Nation and Inuit relations have their agreement in place for the Sixties Scoop, the federal and provincial governments continue to deny any involvement in the taking of Métis children. This absence of this recognition re-traumatizes the Métis survivors. 

Governments offer excuses and use their justice systems to deny Métis survivors a settlement agreement and, more importantly, justice.

I don't blame the current generation of Canadians for what happened. But I ask, how can you continue to support current governments that have now taken more Indigenous children through social services than during the whole Sixties Scoop? 

A group of women joins hands during a prayer vigil on the grounds of the former Muskowekwan Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. (Mickey Djuric/CBC)

We can find new paths

I ask Canadians to open their minds to the idea that Canadian institutions such as the education system, justice system, social services and the health care system are inherently racist against Indigenous Canadians. 

You do not need to be an official leader to be a leader on an issue. It has taken me 60 years to understand this simple fact. One way or another we are all leaders in our families, cities or country. Together we can make a change. 

I ask you, how many more Indigenous Canadians have to die or be found in graves before this country moves to deal with problems of racism? 

We should be guided by respect and love for one another. Through the Indigenous values of relational ways of being, we can find new paths to reconciling our issues.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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Robert Doucette is the former president of the Métis Nation — Saskatchewan.