Our hearts break for all who knew and loved the more than one thousand First Nations people—most of whom were children—who have been found in unmarked graves at former residential school sites throughout Canada. Our hearts break for the survivors and descendants of survivors of residential schools who have endured intergenerational trauma, and for the First Nations and Indigenous communities that have been irrevocably impacted by what “can best be described as a cultural genocide.” (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada)
From 1883 to as recently as 1996, an estimated 150,000 First Nations children were forced to leave their families and all they knew to attend Indian residential schools, the majority of which were run by churches. (The New York Times) Why? To erase their native culture. Their language. Their hair. Their clothes. Their traditions. Their practices. Their beliefs. Their stories. Every aspect of their native culture. All stolen in the state-sanctioned pursuit of assimilation into whiteness.
While at the root of every egregious practice perpetrated by these schools, forced assimilation was not the only factor that contributed to the genocide of these children. As reported by The New York Times, they were subjected to tremendous physical and sexual violence. They were kept in “overcrowded dorms” while diseases such as tuberculosis and the Spanish flu spread rapidly. We know that at least hundreds of children died as a result of these gross acts of negligence and abuse, as well as by suicide and by trying to escape. (The New York Times)
Countless children never returned to their families and loved ones, but instead were left in unmarked mass graves, forgotten by those responsible for their deaths—but never by those who knew and loved them.
The discoveries of unmarked graves at Canadian Indian residential schools are not isolated. They are part of the enduring history of anti-First Nations and anti-Indigenous violence, murder, and forced assimilation that has taken place over hundreds of years not only in Canada but also in the United States. In Canada, the practices that first forced these children from their families and then from this world were influenced by and modeled after schools in the U.S. that had already been erasing Indigenous culture for decades.
We at Together Rising stand with all who knew and loved these children, the survivors and descendants of survivors of residential schools, and First Nations and Indigenous communities. We just directed $250,000 to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS)—a nonprofit founded and led by First Nations elders—that has been supporting First Nations communities for the last twenty-five years, including survivors of residential schools and their descendants and families who have lost children and loved ones.
The IRSSS team is best equipped to provide on-the-ground support during this crisis. After the discoveries of the graves, the First Nations Health Authority asked IRSSS to send elders to the communities. The elders provide the same support that IRSSS’s crisis line does 24/7 but in person, including performing cedar brushings, smudges, prayers, and other cultural practices. With our $250,000 investment, the IRSSS team will continue to provide support in culturally responsive and trauma-informed ways that only they can, making space for conversations that only they can have. Through Together Rising, all of us are on the ground right now with these families by way of our partnership with IRSSS.
(The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada) Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future
(The New York Times) Canada’s Grim Legacy of Cultural Erasure, in Poignant School Photos