There’s no excuse for this – May 24-30, 2021
This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The Missive” on Sept. 5, 2021. Subscribe for free at: https://jodymacpherson.substack.com/ or access background info and special content with a paid subscription.
Honestly, this week I don’t know how many official news releases there were. There’s one number on my mind this week.
Two hundred and fifteen.
There’s only one thing to discuss and it is the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at the Kamloops Residential School – what it represents and why it is still so relevant to Alberta, Canada and the world today.
In Kamloops, the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation Chief Rosanne Casimir told the CBC that these are undocumented deaths. So that means they would be in addition to the 3,200 deaths in the register created by the Missing Children and Unmarked Burials Project. Almost half of the children in the register do not have a recorded cause of death and a third weren’t even identified by name.
The fact is that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) warned us about this in 2015 and yet, little or nothing has been done by the federal government to investigate and yes, prosecute, those responsible for the residential school deaths.
After significant pressure from Canadians, the flags on Parliament Hill and across all federal buildings were lowered to half-mast following the news reports of this story. The perfunctory condolence messages were sent out by politicians and public figures far and wide. It’s NOT ENOUGH.
Here in Alberta, Jason Kenney was celebrating his birthday this weekend, but did manage to eventually send out a tweet:
This ignited a firestorm of criticism after Twitter pointed out the government’s curriculum advisor for the draft K-6 curriculum is none other than Christian Champion whose Dorchester Review journal was tweeting racist nonsense in response to the Kamloops discovery and calling the TRC “politics and cashola.”
Others pointed out that Premier Kenney’s own speechwriter, Paul Bunner wrote this in 2013:
“The bogus genocide story of the Canadian Aboriginal residential schools system is an insult to all of us, Native and non-Native, dead or alive, who are justifiably proud of the peaceful, tolerant, pluralistic history and values of our great country.”
Finally, many were reminding Kenney that the residential school system was created by John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, a man who committed horrible crimes against Indigenous people. When protestors in Montreal knocked over Macdonald’s statue last summer, Kenney went on a rant on Twitter defending his legacy.
To add insult to injury to many Indigenous people, he offered to bring the statue to Edmonton and have it installed at the Alberta Legislature grounds.
Treaty 6 Chiefs were quick to react saying they would not support this and instead called for funding of a Treaty Medal monument to recognize the spot where Treaty 6 was signed before Alberta became a province. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. And Montreal is keeping its statue. What was Kenney thinking, wading in on an argument about a statue in Quebec in the middle of a pandemic? He ended up coming off like the racist he is and offending Indigenous people everywhere.
Also this week, the Franken-curriculum is universally dismissed by Indigenous people. Even some previous endorsements are being withdrawn. Some Alberta Indigenous leaders and an elder said the provincial government “used them or misrepresented their positions to gain endorsements for a new elementary school curriculum they do not support.”
Betty Letendre, a Métis residential school survivor who has worked for years with Edmonton schools said the group of mostly senior citizens were given hundreds of pages of documents and only one day, or a few days, to respond. They weren’t allowed to consult any other experts and the conditions were inadequate for providing meaningful feedback. She feels the government took advantage of her position and identity.
Thinking about the events of this week, I’ve been reflecting on the state of current affairs. There is a desire on the part of many to put the residential schools and any talk of genocide aside. The rationale is that this is a “dark chapter in our history” or a “legacy” of some past system. There is pressure to get on with the future. However, there are some themes from the TRC report on the missing children that don’t seem like they are “history” at all.
Cutting costs on crucial supports for vulnerable people
One of the findings of the TRC’s missing children project was that “the failure to establish and enforce adequate regulations was largely a function of the government’s determination to keep residential school costs to a minimum.”
Doing the right thing is almost never cheap. At least not on the front end. Cost-cutting on healthcare, education and social services are omnipresent in our current political discourse. We continue to decry the upfront costs of things that will most certainly save lives and prevent more expensive outcomes later (i.e. negative health outcomes).
Mind you, we’re happy to give billions in tax breaks to oil and gas companies, to fund the clean-up of their messes and to spend millions on public relations on their behalf (which, by the way, they don’t even really want us to do). But helping vulnerable people is not a big priority in the UCP government’s budget.
Ignoring and erasing people due to racism
Another of the findings was that the children’s deaths weren’t adequately documented, likely due to racist attitudes at the time. In 68% of the deaths, the child’s name was not even recorded. What does this say about the value that was placed on their lives? This goes beyond just bad record-keeping, it was a statement about colonial attitudes towards Indigenous people. It was a cover-up and an erasure of an entire group of people.
In most cases, the bodies of the children who died at the schools were not returned to their home communities. Evidence suggests their parents weren’t even notified, or if they were it may have been long after the child had died. Any parent would likely collapse from grief in this situation. What a horrific thing to inflict on the families.
Just a reminder that this week three people were found dead near the location of a recently closed supervised consumption site (SCS) in Edmonton. The government also announced the closure of another SCS at the Sheldon Chumir Centre, a heavily used location just across the street from where I live. There was a promise of two new sites being opened, but no one in government would commit to a date or location.
This lack of information about what is planned is shocking given the rising number of overdose deaths in Alberta. It was the deadliest year on record in 2020 with 1,144 opioid-related deaths — an 83 per cent increase from the year before. Numbers continue to trend upwards, with 228 substance use deaths in the first two months of 2021 alone, 70 of which were in Calgary.
The closures are the result of a wildly unbalanced SCS panel that refused to even consider the lives saved by the site. The panel did not even talk to anyone who supported the site or had benefited from the site, which has a proven record of effective harm reduction.
The government’s approach is to get people out of the Beltline so they’re not bothering the “community” or businesses in the vicinity. Out of sight and out of mind. Total erasure.
It might also be significant that some of the people affected by this closure, are Indigenous people suffering from intergenerational trauma created by Canada’s genocidal actions.
Not enforcing rules that protected health and safety
The missing children project also found that the government did not set adequate standards and regulations to guarantee the health and safety of the students. They also failed to enforce even the inadequate protections they did create.
The children were kidnapped, treated horrifically and left to fend for themselves in more than 130 residential schools that were not monitored. At the time, reports were made of mistreatment, but the government failed to act quickly to prevent further damage. The last residential school in Canada didn’t actually close until the late 1990’s.
So how seriously do we take protecting the health and safety of racialized people today? When racists march on the streets with symbols of hate, disobeying health orders and endangering safety, we show a curious reluctance to enforce the law. So, how do we expect marginalized BIPOC communities to feel safe?
So, to end the week, the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations called on both the federal and the provincial governments to immediately implement an action plan with them to locate graves “so that proper cultural protocols are made to honour and remember our deceased children and people.”
The Nations say that mass graves and unmarked graves do exist and have been located in Alberta.
“The children were denied their last moments away from family who loved and cherished them. The families were denied the right to grieve, and to follow through with customary burial practices,” said Grand Chief Vernon Watchmaker.
Here’s hoping their request will be honoured.
Keep up the public pressure so it happens everyone.