“If legends fall silent, who will teach the children of our ways?”~ Chief Dan George
On May 27, 2021, the news broke that the remains of 215 First Nations children were discovered at the site of a former Indian Residential School in Kamloops, BC. This news, although not surprising, sent shock waves throughout the world. To date, the number of bodies recovered from residential school sites is close to 1000.
There were 139 Indian Residential Schools in operation for more than 115 years in Canada. During these years, an estimated 150,000 children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to live in these schools across the country. The purpose of these institutions was to replace the Indigenous education, culture and spiritual traditions of First Nations children to assimilate them into the “civilized” Canadian environment. The children suffered physical, mental, and sexual abuse at the hands of the administration and staff. Official records account for just over 4000 deaths. The number of children who died in the schools is estimated to be as high as 15,000.
This truth has been heartbreaking for the families of the children and the survivors of residential schools. The last of these schools closed in 1996, but the trauma for them continues today. The recovery of the bodies offers small comfort to those who have known this all along. The identities of the dead must be accounted for so these children can finally come home.
This tragic event has shone a light on the horrific truths of the Indian Residential Schools for all the world to see. Now Canada must face the reality of its history and take an honest look at the inequities all First Nations Peoples face daily.
While school children fastened orange ribbons to school fences as a memorial, many non-indigenous Canadians searched for ways to support the First Nations Peoples through their grief. They want to stand in solidarity with them as they continue to deal with barriers caused by poverty, discrimination, and the lasting effects of the 100+ years of suffering caused by the residential school genocide.
215 reasons to mourn. 215 reasons to fight for what is right. 215 reasons…
Become an Ally
How can you show support for the First Nations People of Canada? How can you become an ally to the Indigenous community and stand in solidarity with them?
To be an ally means that you are aware that you are not a part of the oppressed community. Instead, you work to understand their struggle. Allies acknowledge their own privilege and recognize the effect settler colonialism has had on Indigenous Peoples. They understand that residential schools were responsible for the cultural genocide of an entire generation of children. To be a genuine ally means that you act to challenge prejudices when you encounter them and endeavour to break down the barriers that Indigenous communities continue to face. See the Guide to Allyship for ways to become an ally.
The first thing you can do is educate yourself about Indigenous history and the residential school system. We need to understand the purpose of the schools, how they were funded, and the connection they have to our social welfare and justice systems today. It is not up to First Nations People to teach you or to explain these concepts to you. It is your responsibility to learn all you can.
Read and understand The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report. The Commission heard over 5000 stories from residential school survivors. From those testimonies, the TRC developed 94 Calls to Action to facilitate reconciliation. Don’t miss The TRC Final Report — Volume 4: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials.
Read the powerful firsthand accounts from survivors of the Indian Residential Schools published in the TRC’s report The Survivors Speak.
Assembly of First Nations —It’s Our Time: Education Toolkit
Read about and understand Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The report set out 231 individual Calls for Justice aimed at governments, institutions, other organizations and individuals urging sweeping legal and social changes to end the persistent violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Find out how you can help.
Call, write or email your Member of Parliament and demand that the federal government implement the TRC’s 94 Calls To Action. It is essential that the government respond to Numbers 71-76. These five CTAs are concerned with locating the missing children and their unmarked burial places. It is vitally important that Canada works with Indigenous communities to do this in a culturally informed way.
Contact your MP and demand that the federal government enact into law, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Sign the pledge to take action to end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people. Share the pledge on your social media and with your family and friends.
Show support for Indigenous artists, business owners, and journalists.
Follow and read Indigenous news sites, blogs, podcasts and television networks. Here are a few
you might enjoy.
- IndigiNews an online news site. It provides relevant, trustworthy content to the Okanagan and Vancouver Island communities.
- Ku’ku’kwes News, founded by journalist Maureen Googoo, is an online Indigenous news magazine dedicated to stories about First Nations in Atlantic Canada.
- Muskrat Magazine is an online Indigenous arts, culture, and living magazine. Exhibits original works and offers critical commentary.
- The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network was the first national Indigenous broadcaster in the world. For more than 20 years, APTN has been bringing news and television programming about Indigenous Peoples to Canadian audiences across the country. Today, APTN airs programming in English, French and Indigenous languages throughout the world.
- Indigenous Issues 101 a helpful resource, part of the Apihtawikosisan Law. Language. Culture blog.
For more Indigenous content, check out the list below.
- 9 Great Indigenous Podcasts
- 7 Indigenous-themed Podcasts to Enlighten You
- 5 Must-See Films by Indigenous Women
- 35 Books to Fead for National Indigenous History Month (or any time!)
- Some of the Best Books by Indigenous Writers in Canada
- Tea & Bannock — a collective blog by indigenous women photographers
- 25 Indigenous Fashion Designers to Know
- Strong Nations — a publishing house and online gift and book store
- The 90% – check out their list of American Indigenous blogs
Help end cultural appropriation and support local Indigenous artists. Visit Reclaiming Indigenous Arts for information and suggestions.
Visit the Indigenous Arts Collective of Canada, a volunteer organization led by Indigenous women, with the mandate to preserve and revitalize Indigenous art forms and empower artists. This Indigenous Arts marketplace features artists from First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities across Canada.
Shop First Nations is an online business directory to help you discover local First Nations, Inuit, and Métis businesses across Canada.
Consider making a donation to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society. They provide counselling and health support to residential school survivors.
Other organizations that support Indigenous communities in Canada that would welcome your donations include KUU-US Crisis Line Society, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Legacy of Hope Foundation.
More ways to show support
Read: Truth and Reconciliation: My Action Plan by the late Sarah Robinson
Observe Orange Shirt Day annually on September 30. It is a day to honour the children who were forcibly taken from their families and never returned home. Purchase an orange shirt from the Orange Shirt Society and wear it in remembrance of the genocide that took the lives of so many children.
The best way to support the Indigenous community is by listening. Speaking about the trauma they have experienced may be difficult for many Indigenous peoples. If they choose to share their stories with us, we must listen with empathy and validate their feelings. As allies, our role is to listen, respect their truths and offer support. Add your voice to theirs to fight for change.
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, please call one of the crisis lines below.
The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day, toll-free by calling 1-866-925-4419.
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society crisis support line is available toll-free 24/7 at 1-800-721-0066. The IRSSS provides survivors in British Columbia with counselling, financial support, and an online platform to share their stories.
In British Columbia, the KUU-US Crisis Line Society crisis line is available toll-free, 24-hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-588-8717.