Churches burned, children’s shoes prostrated in front of the Parliament of Canada, demolition of statues, demonstrations against the national government and demands on Pope Francis to offer a public apology.
These have been the postcards in recent weeks after the discovery of more than 1,100 bodies under the remains of former internees that were managed by the Canadian government and mainly the Catholic Church to educate thousands of Native American children in order to be integrated into Western customs, and which is now classified as a “cultural genocide”.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has recognized the historical responsibility of the government for the management of these internships, ensuring that an exhaustive investigation and eventual reparation of the damage would be carried out both for the survivors of the centers, in which racism, physical, psychological and sexual abuse of natives and Inuits are denounced under the pretext of adapting to modernity.
Why did they create these boarding schools and how did they work?
The current formation of Canada would occur until 1867, in which it became an independently administered region, although under the yoke of the British monarchy, a situation that remains to this day.
In 1876, the local parliament approved the India Act, —Currently with the name of Act to Amend and Consolidate Laws Relating to Indians– in which it initially established among its measurements that indigenous minors and their respective reservations they became under the tutelage of the State.
In 1883, the Prime Minister John A. Macdonald —The first president of the then Canadian Confederation– together with his Minister of Public Works, Hector-Louis Lavengin, they decided to create the School System of Indigenous Residences in order to “civilize” the indigenous population and banish them from their culture and integrate them to an identity according to western modernity.
For it, thousands of children were forcibly abducted of their parents and forced to remain in the boarding schools, which were administered mainly by the Catholic Church like the Anglican, in complicity with the government of Canada.
“When the school is in the reserve, the child lives with his parents, who are wild; he is surrounded by savages and, although he can learn to read and write, his habits, his training and his way of thinking are Indian ”, said Macdonald in a speech to Parliament in 1883.
For more than a century —Since the last boarding school closed in 1996—, thousands of indigenous minors were victims of physical abuse due to the penalties imposed for maintaining their culture – since they spoke their native languages and not English and French -, were sexually assaulted by the priests and their own companions within the centers —in which pregnancies of girls and young women were hidden—, and with psychological consequences since many of them developed emotional problems – in which gender within their communities a high consumption of drugs and alcohol -, generating high rates of suicides.
Many of the children they lived in deplorable and unsanitary conditions, overcrowded. And even, they were “laboratory mice” to perform various scientific experiments, mainly nutrition – in which some died of malnutrition and a weak immune system – and exploited labor for the manufacture of various products, such as furniture.
Likewise, they were forced to learn the languages of their colonizers, to leave their traditional clothing, and to be culturally whitewashed to be functional persons for Canadian society.
It is estimated that more than 150 thousand minors were abducted from their communities Y up to possibly 6 thousand children died during the operation of the boarding schools. Many of their bodies were never given to their families, so they chose to bury them in places near the institutes or within them.
The official apologies and the discovery of the remains
The then Canadian Prime Minister, the Conservative Stephen Harper, offered a public apology from the government to indigenous communities in 2008 by the residential school system and ordered to start an investigative commission to find out what happened within the centers, as well as the disbursement of 3,230 million dollars to 27,800 affected pardons.
After reviewing files and testimonies of survivors, in 2015, the commission – chaired by indigenous senator and judge Murray Sinclair – determined that the government of Canada committed a “cultural genocide”. At that time, preliminary figures dictated that there would be up to 4 thousand children died from the indigenous residence system in 139 schools.
Both the Harper government, as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s, have expressed apologies and promised actions to redress the damage —Among them, another commission to investigate the murder and disappearance of indigenous women since 1980. The Anglican church also recognized its responsibility in the boarding system; However, the catholic church has not taken a position since then.
The discovery of the first bodies was made until May 29, 2021, when they were found 215 remains of minors in the Kamloops boarding school, in British Columbia. This would initiate social outrage in Canada for its “shameful past”, as stated by Trudeau at the time.
Later, on June 24, the remains of other 751 minors in the Marieval educational center, in the province of Saskatchewan; and six days later, 182 additional skeletal remains at St. Eugene’s Mission boarding school in British Columbia. At the moment 1,112 bodies have been found.
The “not so new” outrage in Canada
The indigenous communities knew in detail what happened in the network of boarding schools; However, the white and migrant population did not know about the racist past from Canada. The discovery of the remains of the minors not only sparked protests against the government, but also caused the fire of at least a dozen churches in the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, as well as material damage in dozens of others, mainly Catholic.
The protests generated vandalism and the fall of the statues of Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II in various parts of the country by the colonialism that oppressed the indigenous communities in the country for centuries. Many Canadian National Day celebrations – July 1 – were suspended or there were demonstrations for the “failure” of Native American inclusion in the country.
The indigenous communities demanded that the Trudeau government take greater action to compensate what they formally call “genocide”, as well as They ask the Vatican to apologize for being the main manager of the internees network that oppressed the natives for more than a century in which these centers functioned.
The prime minister has already ordered the excavation in all the old centers for the search of all possible remains, it is expected that in the coming months there will be more discoveries in the whereabouts of the minors who never returned with their families and with their culture.