In May 2021, a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential school in British Columbia uncovered the remains of 215 children buried at the site. In June 2021, 751 unmarked graves were discovered in Cowessess, Saskatchewan near the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School. It is very likely that each of the 130 residential schools in Canada had a burial site and more will discovered.
These discoveries are drawing attention to the intergenerational grief and trauma inflicted upon First Nations people by the residential school system in Canada. While Indigenous people have known and spoken of this truth for years, settlers have not listened.
Communities are grieving not only the loss of 966 children but also the innumerable losses caused by the residential school system. Indigenous people share these painful stories and experiences to bring awareness to the truths of Indigenous experiences in Canada. Acknowledging these truths are uncomfortable and necessary.
Alberta Hospice Palliative Care Association has long recognized the impact that grief has on every one of us. This includes disenfranchised grief, which is grief that is unrecognized by others. For example, when First Nations peoples are told they should get over a loss because it was a long time ago. Or when we are grieving the deaths of 966 children we did not know at all.
Instead of feeling helpless in the face of grief, there is power in learning, advocacy and starting the reconciliation process.
What Can You Do?
The residential school system separated 150,000 Indigenous children from their families. The last one closed in 1996. Find out whether you lived near a residential school in the community where you grew up. Learn more about the purpose, establishment and history of residential schools.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published its findings and 94 Calls to Action. Take the time to read the Calls to Action. Reflect upon the fact that, six years later, most of the Calls to Action remain incomplete.
Have the conversations to educate the settlers in your life about why this is important. If you feel you need to learn more yourself, take the FREE Indigenous Canada course through the University of Alberta.
A 24-hour crisis line is available for anybody needing support in relation to residential school experiences: 1-866-925-4419