The discovery of 215 First Nation children’s remains at the site of Canada’s biggest residential school has sent a shockwave of grief and anger across the country.
The announcement was made by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation this week.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School—in so-called British Columbia province—was one of 139 such “schools” established from the late 1800s. It was part of an attempt by the Canadian government to destroy Indigenous societies and culture, which were obstacles to the settler-colonial state’s “nation-building” project.
The Canadian government forcibly took children from their families and beat them for speaking Indigenous languages. Children suffered horrific physical and sexual abuse.
The last school closed in 1996.
The revelation about this mass grave is the tip of the iceberg. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established in 2008 to record the history and impacts of residential schools, documented the deaths of over 6,000 students.
Former TRC chair Murray Sinclair said the number of children who died in these schools could be as high as 25,000 or more.
As Labour-type New Democratic Party MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said, “This is not a discovery but confirmation. Indigenous people have been talking about bodies buried at these schools for decades.”
The forcible taking of children and their deaths in staggering numbers is widely being acknowledged as genocide. But the same logic is at work in the policies of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government today.
Cindy Blackstock is executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She said its “behaviour towards First Nations, Metis and Inuit children has not come very far from the attitude that allowed for residential schools” to be established.
Indigenous children are still being removed from their families in disproportionate numbers. According to 2016 census data, although Indigenous children made up 7.7 percent of the population, they represented more than 52 percent of children in foster care that year.
Trudeau’s government has spent nearly £60 million fighting Indigenous people in the courts. But it has only implemented one of the TRC’s six calls to action about missing children and documenting and protecting burial sites.
Meanwhile, the government is spending billions on pushing oil and gas pipelines through Indigenous lands.
Trudeau’s hypocrisy is increasingly exposed.
There is continuity between the horrors of the residential schools and the current policies of land theft, criminalisation and brutality by the Trudeau government. As one commentator put it, “It’s not a dark chapter. It’s the entire plot.”
For many settlers, these revelations shatter the mythology of Canada as a “peacemaker” and champion of human rights.
Socialists must be clear—Canada has always been a genocidal settler-colonial state and continues to be so.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs slammed the Trudeau government. “I think they’re going to really be shocked at the backlash that will come after this horrific revelation of the atrocities of the genocidal residential school system,” he said.
The heightened solidarity of non-Indigenous people with Indigenous struggles is reshaping the political terrain. We saw this across Turtle Island and from Idle No More to the massive Shut Down Canada movement last year.
And increasingly, it involves trade union solidarity.
This revelation of the extent of Canada’s crimes against Indigenous peoples is shaking Canada to its foundations.