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Residential Schools and Their Effect on Indigenous Communities

By Melissa del Carmen Gomez

Image retrieved from CNS photo/Chris Helgren/Reuters

Last month, a horrifying discovery was made in British Columbia, Canada. The remains of over 200 Indigenous children had been found in a former school by the name of Kamloops Indian Residential School. Schools like this were built for cultural assimilation, and they stole thousands of Indigenous children from their families. The discovery was first discussed and released to the public by Chief Rosanne Casimir Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation.

Taking thousands of Indigenous children from their parents and not allowing them to speak their native languages, residential schools have a painful past. In addition, these innocent children were molested, raped, and abused. Sue Caribou, who spoke with The Guardian about her experience in a residential school, said she was taken from her home in 1972. During her time at the school, she was "thrown into a cold shower every night, sometimes after being raped.” She was physically and sexually abused by multiple Catholic missionaries at the residential school she attended up until 1979. The last residential school closed in the 1990s and as a result of this brutal system, hundreds of Indigenous children have gone missing.

Image via Andrew Snucins/AP

In 2008, the Canadian government apologized for the residential schools and the numerous cases of abuse. Despite this, the Catholic Church operated two-thirds of the schools and has yet to release an apology. The bodies found at Kamloops are a grave reminder of Canada's history of genocide and the oppressive reality that thousands of Indigenous children faced.

Image via Reuters

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke on the issue and is calling for the Catholic Church to "step up” and apologize for its role in the residential schools. "I am confident that the Catholic Church is hearing these calls, very clearly, and is understanding the kind of dismay and grief that many Canadians are feeling right now and seeing the continued lack of action,” Trudeau told the press. The Catholic Church should not only apologize for their role within the residential schools, but also for their role in colonization and trying to 'evangelize' Indigenous populations.

News outlets are reporting on the issue as thousands take to social media to discuss how history conceals the darker side of colonization. There are still thousands of missing Indigenous children left uncounted for and survivors have tried to get help, but their pleads are often diminished. "The outrage and the surprise from the general public is welcome, no question," said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde. "But the report is not surprising."

"Survivors have been saying this for years and years - but nobody believed them," Chief Bellegarde said to BBC News. The lack of action taken by the government and the safety and law enforcement is appalling. Reform within the justice system is vital.

The tragedy remains a horrific and painful reminder of the human rights violations that took place within these residential schools. There are still many unmarked graves and children that need to be accounted for. This is not simply a "dark chapter" within Canada’s history, but an ongoing issue of genocide, erasure, and trauma within the Indigenous community. This is also a painful reminder of the colonization not only in Canada but also in the United States, Mexico, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Russia, New Zealand, and Scandinavia. In these areas, boarding schools were built to Christianize the Indigenous population and to strip Indigenous children from tradition, language, and family. It is distressing to see that this issue is being hidden from history books. In order to truly understand the horrific side effects of colonization and what can be done in terms of reconciliation, the education system must be decolonized.

If you want to take action and help in any way, please consider donating to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and the Legacy of Hope Foundation.

Written by writer Melissa del Carmen Gomez

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