The recent discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School has shocked many Canadians and reopened wounds and trauma for many indigenous people. The fact that this tragedy is surprising to most non-indigenous people is a sign that many of us have not wrestled with the reality revealed through the Truth and Reconciliation Report (2015) which called residential schools “a systematic, government sponsored attempt to destroy Aboriginal cultures and languages and to assimilate Aboriginal peoples so that they no longer existed as distinct peoples”. The commission also acknowledged that of the 150,000 children were forcibly removed from their families and communities, many never returned home. As Christians we must wrestle with the role that the Church played in acting out racist colonial policies aimed at subjugating and eliminating our indigenous peoples. As settlers, we must contend with the fact that we have benefited from these systemic policies, many of which still exist today, and that we live, work, and play on the traditional unceded territories of our first peoples.
So how can we respond as Christians and as settler Canadians?
First, we can let our indigenous people determine the path forward and amplify and make space for indigenous voices. It is inappropriate for us to dictate the path of healing and this would perpetuate the paternalism of colonialism for us to do so.
Second, we need to do the work of educating ourselves on Canada’s colonial history and work through our own emotional reactions and grief. Many of your children may have perspectives they can share with you from some of the learning that they have done in class as well.
Last, and perhaps most importantly we need to walk with humility, love, and gentleness with the indigneous people in our lives. For many of them this has been a painful reminder of past and ongoing trauma. Be ready to listen if and when they come to you for support and friendship.
If you have not read the full report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, you can find it here:
Here are some additional readings that can help us understand the history of residential schools in Canada:
Our class made this bulletin board as a response to the recent residential school findings. We discussed how this is a very sad part of Canada’s story. It is hard to decide what to do or say. We can be sad with those who are sad, and at the same time, be positive and do what we can now, which is to learn about each other and love others as Jesus would, for all their differences and uniqueness.