Trigger warning: Death, racism, violence, suicide.
The bodies of dead children found near a BC residential school have been covered over and over again these past weeks with headlines like, “’Unthinkable’ discovery in Canada as remains of 215 children found buried near residential school” (CNN), or “Remains of 215 Children Found Buried at former Residential School” (CBC.) These simply do not do this event justice and ignore important questions.
The biggest question is: why now? This particular school was closed in 1978 with at least 51 deaths reported between 1914 and 1963. Children between 3-16 attended residential schools, meaning that those who attended in 1963 would be as young as 61 and old as 74. These survivors are still alive and have stories to tell; this is not “unthinkable” to them. In fact, these people could’ve told you where these bodies were years ago.
It was not until the Secwépemc Natives were approved to use a ground-penetrating radar that they were able to locate the children, some as young as three years old. Although the bodies were discovered now, there was never a question about what happened to them. “To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” said Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Secwépemc. “We sought out a way to confirm that out of deepest respect and love for these lost children and their families.”
This took as long as it did because the Canadian Government leaves it up to the victims of genocide to find their own dead and put them in front of a camera. These stories have always been out there, Canada is built on mass graves; the issue is these stories aren’t shared. The past is silenced for comfort and atrocities continue to be committed.
Approximately only half of Aboriginal children have both parents, have triple the suicide rate as those without Indigenous heritage, and their lack of clean, safe drinking water is one of the greatest violations of the UN-recognized human rights to water and sanitation. The life expectancy in Indigenous territories is a decade less than everywhere else in Canada. Article 25 of the Convention of 1989 ensures health services are made available to Indigenous peoples, but Canada has yet to ratify it, unlike 23 other countries. Thousands of Native women are abducted each year and rarely investigated.
The genocide hasn’t stopped, it’s just found cleverer ways to continue. To ensure patriotism doesn’t blind us to these ongoing issues in the future, I encourage you to seek out Native perspectives and question what other media outlets are leaving out.