'It's time Canada started listening to survivors': Cree lawyer says B.C. discovery more evidence of genocide
Effects of residential schools extend far beyond deaths and abuse, says lawyer Eleanore Sunchild
WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing
Cree lawyer Eleanore Sunchild has represented thousands of residential school survivors in Saskatchewan and other provinces.
Sunchild spoke with the CBC reporter Jason Warick about the recent announcement by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation that it had discovered unmarked burial sites believed to contain 215 bodies near the former Kamloops, B.C., Indian residential school.
Sunchild planned to attend a vigil in North Battleford, Sask., Monday evening for these children and others who died attending other schools.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
CBC: As someone who's worked closely with survivors, what message would you have for Canadians?
Sunchild: I think it's time Canada started listening to survivors, who really understand the depth of what happened. There was a lot of abuse, severe sexual and physical abuse, as well as deaths, killings, murders. That will all come out. What we heard about Kamloops is tragic, definitely, but there are so many more stories like that.
The report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission used the term "cultural genocide" to describe residential schools. How would you describe this situation?
To me, mass graves indicate genocide. It's much more than cultural genocide. It's actually genocide. Indian children were killed. Indian children went missing. All of that truth will be revealed.
You've said the effects of the schools extended far beyond the students. Can you explain?
A lot of the students went back to communities with severe trauma. That's been transferred. There's so much grief. There was a settlement package, but that dealt with financial compensation for the students. But if the government were sincere about reconciling what happened, they'd focus on healing for the communities. Helping families deal with the grief and trauma. There is not one Indigenous community that hasn't been impacted by the schools.
We see it in the over-representation of Indigenous people in jail. We see it in the high number of children in the child welfare system. We see it in missing and murdered and Indigenous women. This is all legacy of the Indian residential school system.
Have you spoken with survivors about this? How are they feeling?
People are retraumatized, deeply affected. They've been saying this for years. They were targeted, dehumanized, killed. Now finally Canadians are starting to take notice because of a grave containing 215 children. That's just the start.
It's time that people realize this is what their country did. The more genocidal evidence is uncovered, the harder it will be to ignore.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I want to acknowledge all the survivors and the families for their courage speaking about their experiences with Indian residential schools.
Support is available for anyone affected by the effects of 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.