As I reflect on the recent and horrific news regarding the discovery of the bodies of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site, it reminds me of the resilience of our people.
But the discovery of the children’s remains must be investigated as a crime against humanity. All entities involved in residential schools – including different levels and branches of Canadian government and various denominations of churches – should be charged with genocide and tried at the International Penal Court.
What happened to Indigenous children is genocide, and the legacy of this continues through denial and inaction.
Aftermath of the genocide
Tamara Starblanket, a nehiyaw (Cree) lawyer, argues that Canada must be held accountable for crimes of genocide.
the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) produced a supplement report on the question of genocide in Canada. His most powerful statement reads:
Legally speaking, this genocide consists of a composite unlawful act which engages the responsibility of the Canadian state under international law. Canada has breached its international obligations by a series of actions and omissions taken as a whole, and this violation will persist as long as acts of genocide continue to occur and destructive policies are maintained. Under international law, Canada has a duty to make reparation for the damage it has caused and to provide restitution, compensation and satisfaction to indigenous peoples.
I observed and felt the consequences of this genocide. I have felt it all my life and I know my parents and grandparents have felt it too. My grandmother went to residential school and didn’t talk about it until she was sick and dying. She told my aunt that she saw a child buried near the walkway to the Mohawk Institute, also known as the the porridge hole, in Brantford, Ontario.
Resilience and survival
As a lawyer working with Sunchild LawI represented residential school survivors at their Independent Assessment Process (IAP) Hearings. The IAP was established to resolve complaints of serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse suffered in residential schools.
Read more: The stories and experiences of residential school survivors must be remembered at the end of the class action settlement
While defending the rights of survivors, I found this process difficult not only as an Indigenous lawyer and intergenerational survivor, but as someone who had to witness the re-traumatization of survivors. I also saw and felt their incredible strength as they persevered in this process.
As a law professor at the University of Windsor, I am grateful that our students have been able to learn Indigenous legal orders from the native faculty with specializations in Haudenosaunee, Nêhiyaw and Anishinaabe laws.
We have done a lot at the University of Windsor Law School to implement the Call to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 28 – which calls on “law schools in Canada to require that all law students take a course on indigenous peoples and the law”. We did more than establish a course and in fact established an aboriginal law course certificate. It is far from sufficient, but it is a start.
Indigenous peoples’ connection to our lands, communities and peoples have enabled resilience. Our ceremonies and the strength of our Indigenous laws are strong, we are always there with our tongues, our songs and our healing ceremonies.
The strength of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc peoples has been seen with healing ceremonies, songs and dances respect and honor the spirit of the 215 children.
Genocide in progress
I saw and felt the strength of our people to recover and heal from the impacts of genocidal and colonial laws and policies – like The Indian Act and the 60s scoop – which have been happening for decades. These feelings of pain and trauma are not new.
They are triggered consistently and persistently every the time a survivor speaks, when one of our of women disappear or are found murdered, when our people are targeted to be indigenous, for protect their lands and territories or when we are violated in any way.
The MMIWG final report goes on to say:
But first and foremost, Canada’s violation of one of the most fundamental rules of international law requires an obligation to cease: Canada must end its perpetual pattern of violence and oppression against Indigenous peoples. .
Investigate crimes against humanity
Canada’s genocidal laws and policies are not new: the Indian Act still stands today as one of the racist and sexist laws around the world. At one point he dictated that every Indigenous child must attend residential school.
The discovery of the remains of indigenous children should be investigated as a crime against humanity and further investigation should be carried out at other sites of former residential schools. The perpetrators must be held accountable so that the genocide stops and healing and reconciliation can take place.
I urge all Canadians to care, learn, listen, respect and unlearn the lies that have been told. I wish all Canadians who are unaware of this genocide to learn the truth and to accept that they have benefited from Canada’s genocidal policies and laws that attempted to erase us from existence.
Our children and our survivors should be celebrated, honored and respected.
Byron Louis, Chief of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia, posted a post on LinkedIn that should stick with all of us:
“Do not lower your head and do not cry, raise your head to praise and honor them and above all to support them. This is what they rightly deserve in their service to our people. They need our praise, not our pity!
If you are a residential school survivor or have been affected by the residential school system and need assistance, you can contact the 24 hour residential school crisis line: 1-866-925-4419