David A. Robertson has written many books about his — and his family’s — experience with residential schools and its intergenerational impact. He is the author, most recently, of the graphic novel “Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story,” the memoir “Black Water” and the picture book “On the Trapline.” He is donating part of his payment to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.
I grew up in Winnipeg. I’ve lived here since I was about three years old. My grandparents lived in Melita, which is about three-and-a-half hours southwest of the city. Between Winnipeg and Melita is the city of Brandon, which was also the site of Brandon Indian Residential School, one of approximately 150 residential schools in Canada. My parents used to drive out to Melita to visit my grandparents and, on every trip, they’d have to go through Brandon. And, on every trip, when they passed a particular RV campground, my father would point to it and tell my mother that children were buried there.
That was decades ago. And while the discoveries of, so far, over 1,300 unmarked graves of Indigenous children over the last few weeks, some as young as three, might be shocking to the majority of Canadians, it is not shocking to Indigenous people.
Maybe what’s happened recently has robbed me of the ability to be tactful, but I’d like to put things into perspective in the most direct way I can. Allied soldiers in World War II had, by far, a better chance of surviving D-Day than an Indigenous child forced to attend residential school.
There was a 40 to 60 per cent mortality rate in Indian residential schools.
It’s an appropriate analogy, using an event that occurred during World War II, during the time of the Holocaust, an indisputable act of genocide. There are laws against Holocaust denial in 16 European countries, as well as Israel. Meanwhile, in Canada, with most residential school sites left to be searched and already thousands of children confirmed to have died, the word genocide has yet to be uttered by Justin Trudeau. Carolyn Bennett recently called it a “terrible mistake.”
Can you imagine somebody referring to the Holocaust as a mistake? As though the deaths of millions of human beings, or thousands of children, warrants no more than a “Whoops.”
It’s disgusting, shameful, embarrassing, and Canadians need to demand better.
My grandmother, Sarah Robertson, attended Norway House Indian Residential School in the 1920s and 1930s. It was a perpetually overcrowded school that fed children rotten food, made girls sleep on a balcony in the winter, tied up kids to prevent them from running away and beat them when they wet their beds.
She didn’t tell anybody about her experience there; only to say to a granddaughter that it had made her sad when they cut her hair and to tell my mother that her sister had died while attending school. My grandmother had looked and looked for her sister but never found her. It was years later that she’d found out her sister had died. I’ve been to my home community, Norway House Cree Nation, on several occasions to look for her grave, but it, too, is unmarked.
I don’t want you to forget that 751, 215, 180, 104, 38, 35 are not statistics. I want you to get over the shock. What I don’t want is for you to become desensitized to the fact that these were children. My grandmother’s sister had a name. It was Maggie, and she mattered. Each number you’ve seen over the last few weeks is a child, and they all mattered.
The best way to honour their memory is to fight for a better Canada because, in so doing, you are fighting for them.
As more unmarked graves are being revealed:— Kona Williams (@WilliamsKona) July 13, 2021
Don't scroll by or turn the page.
Don't forget the thousands of children who were sent to these schools, and never came home.
Don't normalize the reality of graves at schools for children.
Honour the children.
#160 time to bring in the truth of Canada’s #Genocide in all educational institutions- All Provinces & Territories must step aside and let IndigenousPPls Elders and Indigenous academics to change quality of curriculum -Time for Educational SelfDetermination— Ellen Gabriel (@EllenGabriel1) July 13, 2021
#EveryChildMatters— @FFFCanada (@FFFCanada) July 13, 2021
160 Kuper Island
=1126 unmarked graves in just three of the 139 Indian residential schools
March for the Children in Chemainus Aug. 2 to remember students #healing & #reconciliation.https://t.co/cmRGdj4AkR