The recent discoveries of more than 1,000 graves at the sites of three former residential schools in Canada have shone a light on a dark spot in Canada’s past and once again opened old wounds.
Between 1831 and 1996 more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend boarding schools in an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
About 70 percent of the schools were run by the Catholic church, the rest by Protestant orders. Converting children to Christianity was seen as part of the mission of the schools.
The bodies of students who died at school were rarely returned to their families and parents were often given little to no explanation about what happened. The remains found last month are believed to be some of an estimated 10,000 to 50,000 students who went to school and never returned. They are known in Canada’s Indigenous community as the “missing children”.
A 2015 report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concluded the school system amounted to “cultural genocide”. The same report included testimony from former students who recounted sexual and physical abuse, including being beaten if caught speaking in their native languages.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement last month expressing their desire to work towards healing, saying “with the strong encouragement of Pope Francis, the Bishops of Canada have pledged true and deep commitment to renewing and strengthening relationships with Indigenous Peoples across the land.”
In a separate statement, the Bishops announced a delegation of Indigenous people is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in December.
In this episode of The Stream, we speak with activists from Canada’s Indigenous community about the history and traumatic legacy of residential schools and ask them what it will take to bring healing.
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