So This Is Our Response…
In 2018, a tragedy occurred in Canada. A bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team collided with a transport truck, killing 16 people, and injuring 13.
Canada mourned. The Nation went silent at games, lowered flags, raised money, and left hockey sticks on our front porches to honour those who were lost. In the months and years that have followed, we’ve held jersey days across the country to remember.
It was a wonderful, moving response from a country, where hockey is enshrined in culture. It was compassionate, empathetic, and loving.
This is and was how a country should respond.
Following the recent discovery of the bodies of 215 children at a residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia, our country has responded in a different way.
In the days that followed, there was deep sadness, but no National response.
The response was called a “painful reminder,” or a “dark” and “shameful” past. No online fundraiser rapidly accumulated money for families, and the finding, which is horrific evidence of a genocide Canadians have long ignored, was covered by media, but not with the vigor and urgency that shook Canada to the core following Humboldt. The government lowered flags, but it was 48 hours after the announcement. When Prince Philip died, flags were down within minutes.
The Kamloops Residential School committed acts of genocide from 1890 until it closed in 1969. Across Canada, more than 150,000 Indigenous youth were stolen from their families, ripped away, abused, and killed.
If you were to circle Humboldt, Saskatchewan on a map, you’d find Gordon Indian Residential School and Muscowequan Indian Residential School to the Southeast. To the North you’d find St. Michael’s Indian Residential School, Emmanuel College Indian Residential School, St. Alban’s Indian Residential School, All Saints Indian Residential School, and Prince Albert Indian Residential School.
You could complete the same activity for any location in Canada.
At Gordon Indian Residential School, near Punnichy, Saskatchewan, the closest drive to Humboldt, records tell of atrocities including Andrew Gordon freezing to death, the drowning of Myrtle Jane Moostos and Margaret Bruce, 49 children contracting influenza, children being beaten and raped, and the appointment of convicted sexual abuser William Peniston Starr as director. Another time a “serious case of immorality” was reported, but following that date, no mention of the event occurred.
These are the few recorded events. What wasn’t recorded? How many children were killed? What would we find if we dug up the ground at Gordon? There is a cemetery at Gordon IRS where children are buried. But how many?
The closest school to Humboldt to the North, near Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, was known as St. Michael’s Indian Residential School.
The first Indigenous person to play in the NHL, Fred Saskamoose, was brought to St. Michael’s as a child, where he played hockey, and suffered. The stories from this location are the same: torture, sexual and physical abuse, malnutrition, and death.
What would we find if we dug up the soil at St. Michael’s?
And hockey was a part of these schools. Not in the way we’ve come to love it in Canada. Hockey was used at residential schools as a social engineering tool to encourage Indigenous youth to self-identify as Canadian, thereby shedding their Indigenous roots.
When Canada came together following the devastating Humboldt Broncos crash, it showed the best the country has to offer. It was an incredible display of solidarity for those who are hurting. People from all walks of life found ways to build up a community in pain.
Following the discovery of 215 lost children this week, Canada’s silence is deafening. Undoubtedly, there are thousands more children lost, hidden on the sites of former residential schools.
Indigenous communities across Canada are in pain.
The genocide committed by the Canadian government and various churches, utilizing the institution of education to colonize and strip heritage from Indigenous youth, while abusing and killing children, is horrendous.
It is heart breaking. It was deliberate, leaving generational trauma, caused by unfathomable evil.
And yet, we are silent. We have no offerings on our front porches, we have no outcry to condemn and punish the perpetrators, we are not as a country binding together to help hurting communities.
The lack of action, when Canada has displayed an incredible ability to act and support a community facing loss, is telling. It’s telling of how we aim to preserve or collective reputation as a welcoming and diverse country, without the terrifying history of other countries in the world.
It is telling of how we view Indigenous people, and of how we continue to live and uphold oppressive and colonizing systems.
As Canadians, we present ourselves as kind, socially responsible, inclusive people…but it make you wonder, if this is our response, who are we really?
By Ian Kennedy