The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a time for us to raise awareness of the trauma and genocide of Indigenous First Nations, Métis, and Inuit through residential schools and other settler colonial structures implemented to eradicate Indigenous nations and children. Since 1831, over 140 government sponsored church-run residential schools have operated throughout Canada, the last institution closing in 1996. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released in 2015, there are at least 3,213 children who died, and this number is understood to be a conservative estimate due to poor and incomplete record keeping.
More recently, the uncovering of unmarked mass graves sites near four government-run Indian Residential schools shows us that the death and disappearance of Indigenous children was known but among Canadians, Indigenous loss of life was largely contested, unacknowledged, and unrecognized until this revelation. This trauma is not located in a far-off historical moment, but continues to be felt, experienced, and lived today within Indigenous nations.
A National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a day to “honour the lost and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.” Honouring survivors requires the implementation of the 94 calls to action that were laid out by the TRC in 2015. Specifically, the TRC calls to action regarding “Missing Children and Burial Information” are stated as follows:
71. We call upon all chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies that have not provided to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada their records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities to make these documents available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
72. We call upon the federal government to allocate sufficient resources to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to allow it to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
73. We call upon the federal government to work with churches, Aboriginal communities, and former residential school students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children.
74. We call upon the federal government to work with the churches and Aboriginal community leaders to inform the families of children who died at residential schools of the child’s burial location, and to respond to families’ wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, and reburial in home communities where requested.
75. We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students, and current landowners to develop and implement strategies and procedures for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. This is to include the provision of appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children.
76. We call upon the parties engaged in the work of documenting, maintaining, commemorating, and protecting residential school cemeteries to adopt strategies in accordance with the following principles:
- The Aboriginal community most affected shall lead the development of such strategies.
- Information shall be sought from residential school Survivors and other Knowledge Keepers in the development of such strategies.
- Aboriginal protocols shall be respected before any potentially invasive technical inspection and investigation of a cemetery site.
Continued delays and obstructions of justice, including the Canadian Government’s ongoing efforts to appeal rulings in favour of survivors is an ongoing act of colonial violence against Indigenous peoples. Federal, provincial, and municipal governments must all be committed to taking action on these issues.
The Department of Anthropology at York University also acknowledges that honoring survivors is a commitment to: (1) engage with and support the work of Indigenous scholars, activists, artists, land defenders and water keepers; (2) remain accountable to the ways that colonialism and white supremacy continue to inform institutions of higher learning and the privileging of colonial ways of knowing, and (3) unsettle how this discipline continues to benefit from extractive forms of knowledge that maintain colonial forms of power. As part of our commitment for truth and reconciliation, we urge you to connect and engage with Indigenous writings and life stories, some of which we have highlighted below.
- CASCA Statement on the Burial of Children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School (May 3, 2021).
- Hamilton, Scott. 2015. Where are the Children Buried? (PDF) A Report for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2015. Truth and Reconciliation of Canada: Calls to Action (PDF).