OTTAWA – The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is writing today to the Attorney General of Canada to demand that charges be laid in the deaths of Indigenous children at Indian residential schools after the horrific discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the Marieval school in Saskatchewan.
NWAC is demanding that all sites of former Indian residential schools immediately be declared crime scenes and that investigations be conducted to determine how each and every Indigenous child buried at those sites died, and who is responsible for their deaths. In addition, we are demanding that charges be laid against people still living who are found to be the perpetrators of these crimes, including the members of the religious orders that ran the schools, as well as the governments and the churches that we know to be complicit.
The Criminal Code of Canada allows such charges to be laid in cases against governments and institutions, including churches, in cases where they have failed to provide the necessaries of life to people who were in their care.
The Truth and Reconciliation has already conducted the investigation into these deaths. We have the evidence of first-hand witnesses of the torture and abuse. In Canada, we live under the rule of law. The law does not allow those who are responsible for the deaths of children to walk free with impunity.
NWAC and its members, the grassroots First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women in Canada, are revolted by the news of the 751 unmarked graves, just as we were sickened by recent similar discoveries at other residential schools.
We are weeping along with the survivors of Marieval whose classmates died around them in a brutal institution that, like all other Indian residential schools, was a place of oppression created for the purpose of assimilation.
We hope that Canadians are horrified by the discoveries of these bodies, just as we and our ancestors have been horrified by the fact of those schools for generations.
I ask you to take a moment to think about what it would be like to have men of a different race and culture, men who may not even have spoken your language, arrive at your door to force the children from your arms and to take them far away to a school where they could be subjected to all manner of assault. I ask you to think how you would feel when the other children from your village arrived home at Christmas or the end of the school year but your beloved child was not among them.
Those are the children whose bodies, are in these graves – the children who did not come home. Our children.
We hope this latest discovery, like the discoveries that have come before it, bring some solace to those parents who have spent decades longing to be reunited with their missing sons or daughters. Many will have gone to their graves without knowing how the lives of their little loved ones ended, only imagining their children crying out for them in their last minutes and hours.
But while all of this makes us weep, we cannot pretend to be shocked. Because many of us attended those schools. We witnessed the deaths. And we read the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which an entire chapter was devoted to the missing children and the unmarked graves. That report says, in some cases, nearly 50 per cent of the students who were sent to a school died there before they graduated. Murray Sinclair, the Chief Commissioner of that inquiry, has estimated that the total number of deaths at the schools could number 6,000.
So we are relieved that attention is now being paid to this issue.
But let’s be clear, when Mr. Sinclair asked for $1.5 million from the former federal Conservative government in 2009 to identify the location of these burial sites, he was denied. And while the current Liberal government allocated $27 million in its 2019 budget to look for these graves little, if any, of that money had been spent before Canadians were “shocked” by the news of the 215 bodies found in Kamloops, B.C.
In the meantime, we are heartened by the interest that is now being expressed by large numbers of Canadians in the suffering that First Nations, Métis and Inuit children endured behind the walls of those church-run institutions of murder and torture. We take some comfort in the fact that many people are saying this is a “shocking” revelation, even if it is anything but a revelation to Indigenous people.
We also know that more bodies will be found – many more.
We ask Canadians to be as outraged by this latest discovery of bodies near Saskatoon, and of those discoveries yet to come, as they were when they first heard the news out of Kamloops. We ask Canadians to stop themselves from becoming desensitized to these horrors and the suffering of our children, experiences that those who survived are still living every day. We ask that this anger and revulsion remain strong.
Because only when those emotions are shared by all who walk this land – the Indigenous people and those whose roots are on different continents – can we begin the process of reconciliation.
But reconciliation also demands accountability. It demands that perpetrators be brought to justice. It demands that those responsible for the deaths of these thousands of children feel the full weight of the law.