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As A Kid, I Made Bannock — But My Kids Know About Canada’s Genocide

Sep 22, 2021

I remember making bannock in Grade 3.

We also learned how Canada’s Indigenous population lived, hunted and dressed. And we used Popsicle sticks and bits of cloth to create teepees.

Not once did my teacher mention the more than 100 years in which 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were forcibly snatched from their families and placed in residential schools, or the thousands who never returned home.

She likely didn’t know anything about it. I certainly didn’t until decades later.


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New Generation, Better Understanding

My sons are learning differently. Our first fall in kindergarten I remember scouring the mall for an extra-small orange tee for my five-year-old to wear on Orange Shirt Day. And, while we can all agree, wearing a coloured T-shirt one day out of the year won’t heal a century of cultural genocide, it does spark a conversation. One I wasn’t granted as a child.

“It’s really sad, but we need to learn about it,” Severn Cullis-Suzuki (David Suzuki’s daughter) told my son’s Grade 2 class a few years back. Cullis-Suzuki married into the Haida Gwaii community but was doing her PhD at UBC, so her son was in my son’s class in Vancouver. Like many parents, Cullis-Suzuki volunteered in the classroom. But instead of helping small hands master scissors, she stood in front of an audience of eight-year-olds and calmly and candidly spoke about a long, dark chapter in Canada’s history. 

I watched the class absorb Cullis-Suzuki’s words about children, even younger than them, who were stolen from their parents.

Many of them were abused, or died, and never saw their family again, she said. I expected tears. I’d witnessed several of these same students cry over a missed turn on the swing set, no less. But their little faces remained serious yet stoic. This was not their first lesson on the subject.  

We then took a field trip to see the Reconciliation Pole being carved behind the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. The 55-foot pole lay on its side (it’s now erect on the south end of campus) surrounded by thin curls of red cedar, as Haida master carver, Chief 7idansuu James Hart, and his assistants, made the final etchings on the two-years-in-the-making totem.

7idansuu explained to the class that each of the pole’s 60,000 copper nails were hammered in by residential school survivors and their families, in memory of children who died at the 139 schools.

I watched my son thoughtfully step up to the pole and slowly run his hand across a sea of tiny copper circles, which overlapped like shiny scales on a fish. And tried to imagine this little person, whom I would gladly lay down my life for, being dragged from my arms and carried off by the government and church. I couldn’t. It’s inconceivable to me that such cruelty could exist. And yet it did.

Generation (Knowledge) Gap

That weekend I listened as my son shared his field trip experience with his grandma. My mom nodded solemnly and mentioned that a residential school had existed just outside of Brandon, Manitoba, where she grew up. “Did you know how bad the kids were treated there?” my son asked incredulously. “No,” she admitted, “We just knew it as the ‘Indian school.’ We didn’t really talk about it.”

But we’re talking now. It’s heartbreaking. It’s uncomfortable. It’s shameful. But it’s necessary, and it’s important we don’t ever stop.

After the news broke of the remains of 215 children discovered on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, I decided to do what my 18 years of schooling hadn’t, and I educated myself.

Because I learn best through books I picked up Five Little Indians by Michelle Good (which I highly recommend) for myself and downloaded the e-book, Fatty Legs, for my youngest son, now 11.

At bedtime I asked if he’d like me to read it to him. “My teacher already did,” he matter-of-factly answered. Of course, I thought, ashamed that while I’d conscientiously added books such as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Diary of Anne Frank to our library, I hadn’t sought out stories about my own country’s genocide. Thankfully, his teacher had.


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The Kids Are Armed With History

Arriving early to pick up my older son from school on a warm afternoon later in June, I sat in my car as teenagers streamed out of the building. Each held an orange ribbon loosely in their hand. A group made their way to a high chain-link fence where hundreds of ribbons were already tied, flitting to and fro in the breeze. I realized I was watching a memorial in the making, and felt a rush of gratitude that my child was being offered this opportunity to, not atone for, but simply acknowledge our country’s painful past. Something, in my late forties, I’m still searching for.

In the days that followed my phone buzzed with more horrifying headlines:

751.

182.

With the gut-wrenching likelihood of many more to come, I take a small sip of comfort — please don’t get me wrong, there is no silver lining when it comes to dead children — that future generations will never not know, or be allowed to forget, what we did to our Indigenous kids.

Article Author Carly Krug
Carly Krug

Carly Krug is a Vancouver-based writer whose work has appeared in Flare, Elle, House&Home, TV Guide and 24 Hours. She divides her time, with her husband and two boys, living in their tiny home near Granville Island and their slightly less tiny cabin in the foothills of Mt. Baker, Washington.

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