Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday June 25, 2021
Prime Minister Trudeau must expand residential school investigations
Like a nightmare Canada can’t wake up from, the real-life horror stories about the country’s Indigenous residential schools won’t go away.
On Thursday the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced it had located as many as 751 unmarked graves in a cemetery located beside the community’s former residential school.
This mind-boggling discovery, which the band’s chief, Cadmus Delorme, believes is evidence of criminal acts, comes less than a month after the remains of 215 Indigenous children, some as young as three years old, were found in unmarked graves near a former residential school outside Kamloops, B.C.
That first, grisly finding stunned the country. It also led to a national outpouring of grief and solemn commitments from our political leaders to help discover the truth about what happened to Indigenous children who died or went missing at these hellish, misguided institutions.
Now more than ever, as the shock waves from the Cowessess First Nation reverberate across Canada, the federal government needs to ensure the money and expertise will be there to achieve this.
After all, the 2006 Indian residential School Settlement Agreement covered 138 schools across the country. So far, investigators using ground-penetrating radar technology are looking at unmarked, nameless gravesites at just two of them. We have but scratched the surface of what might lie buried across this land.
By now, everyone in Canada should have a basic awareness of the dreadful things that happened at institutions supposedly created to educate Indigenous children but which were, in reality, diabolical machines for forced assimilation, a practice the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.”
From the late 19th century to the late 20th century, about 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were torn from their families and compelled to live in appalling conditions in these institutions which, while instituted and funded by Ottawa, were operated by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation register counts 1,420 children as having died of disease or accidents while attending residential schools across the country. But Murray Sinclair, the former head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has long maintained as many as 6,000 children died. The discoveries from the past month have led to speculation the final death toll could be even higher.
That’s why the $27 million Ottawa has freed up to help Indigenous communities with their own searches is nowhere near enough when it comes to addressing the scale of the challenges ahead. It’s also worth remembering this isn’t new money. The Liberals set it aside in their 2019 federal budget and simply hadn’t spent it.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should consider that money a mere down-payment on what this country still owes to its Indigenous peoples. We all need to find out if crimes occurred at these schools and if coverups took place. Investigators — who should be chosen by Indigenous communities — will need the power to subpoena records from governments and churches that ran the schools, as well as access to the locations.
We need as much information as possible to know what happened, what might remain to be done and if anyone alive today should and can be held accountable.
The path ahead will not be a straight one. The Cowessess cemetery was used by the community both before and after the residential school operated there. There are likely adults buried there, too. Only a much broader investigation will take us to the truth. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)