During May, I was privileged to do some indigenous-themed stories including a feature on a documentary film which captured Kainai High School programming as well as talking to Farica Prince an inspector/administrator with the Blood Tribe Police Service in regards to systemic racism in policing in general as well as her feelings as an indigenous female in law enforcement on National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Canada (or known as Red Dress Day) on May 5. 

In both cases, the reassuring theme was that the lack of understanding, respect and empathy was part of colonial racism’s roots towards indigenous peoples. So while it is in one way it is sadly not surprising, it is still shocking the public and daresay the media’s response to the news story regarding the atrocities at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, namely the bodies of over 200 children, some as young as three, was released, there should have been outrage from media and the public. 

Huge news stories should be dominating headlines on newspapers across the country, newscasts should be leading with this information. Instead we were left with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Connor McDavid and

COVID-19.

In a news release from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Kamloops Indian Band): “This past weekend, with the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist, the stark truth of the preliminary findings came to light – the confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. 

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the home community of the Kamloops Indian Residential School which was the largest school in the Indian Affairs residential school system. As such, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Leadership acknowledges their responsibility to caretake for these lost children.”

While we have heard a lot in the news in the past few years regarding residential schools, no announcement in recent memory as quantified the loss of life in a single location such as this situation has. There was an estimation and apparently prior knowledge but nothing confirmed, until very recently. 

“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” stated Chief Rosanne Casimir in the Band’s official press release. “Some were as young as three years old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children.

“We are thankful for the Pathway to Healing grant we received to undertake this important work. Given the size of the school, with up to 500 students registered and attending at any one time, we understand that this confirmed loss affects First Nations communities across British Columbia and beyond. We wish to ensure that our community members, as well as all home communities for the children who attended are duly informed. This is the beginning but, given the nature of this news, we felt it important to share immediately. At this time we have more questions than answers. We look forward to providing updates as they become available.” 

Horrible news, correct? Instead, a “meh” attitude other than generally those who are indigenous. 

Having been in the media field for 27 years and have a strong interest in Canadian history, one believes they have a fairly strong knowledge of many facets of Canada’s growth. There was an understanding of indigenous history… or so I thought. 

Even without the prior knowledge and anger to the Kamloops residential school, this should be a horrible shock to the public. 

Again… apathy. 

As Prince indicated there is a complete lack of knowledge of all Canadian indigenous history and therefore empathy. 

“It seems elementary to me, but that’s because I live it. Indigenous people, we have grown up in a society that tell us our lives, our contributions are existence is not as valuable as non-indigenous people. If we grew up in that society telling us that so did everybody else,” explained Prince in a story which appeared in mid-May. “Canadians are conditioned to not care as much about indigenous people, it is not to say all Canadians are racist, that is just how we grew up. It is in all of our institutions, education, health care, media, police, justice.”

So when word comes down that the bodies of 215 children is known, there is an acknowledgement of the news, but no follow up, no outrage, no calls for a public inquiry or hunt to find out what exactly happened. Was it sickness, was it murder, was it malnutrition? These are questions which need answers. Even the fact, the Band had to get a grant in order to pay for a ground penetrating radar to do the search, is incredulous. 

No loud or visible comment from the federal government where it was part of Indian Affairs’ residential school system and was the biggest school. Or that it

was initiated by the Roman Catholic Church in 1890… 

“If we ignore the side/situation/problem it will go away.”

“Who cares, happened a long time ago.”

Ethan Bear of the Edmonton Oilers faced ugly online racist attacks after the Oilers exit from the NHL playoffs. While he received a a lot of support and got some attention from the sports media, again, it was treated as a one-off: “it happened, move on.”

It is like to some, if it happens to someone indigenous, it isn’t a big deal. It should be a big deal. This is an atrocity against our own. They are Canadians, the first Canadians in fact. Historically there were battles between Europeans and the indigenous which are a part of Canadian history. But there were also agreements, unfair ones, where the Indigenous community was marginalized. They have faced countless hurdles, infinite amounts of racism and disdain. Perhaps worst of all: apathy. Sure, the federal and provincial government can point to the programs and the millions of dollars thrown at bands and indigenous communities to show how they care. What kind of work was done other than ‘cheque book charity’?

There are so many indigenous communities which don’t have clean drinking water: the simplest of necessities of life. Fact is as of May 21, 107 long term drinking were lifted since 2015, but 52 long term drinking water advisories were still in effect in 33 communities. 

What is your reaction? “Sucks to be you?”

Prince was right, the apathy is definitely there. Not caring is worse than anger. We can be pious and judgmental regarding the United States, but Canada is just as bad with our passive aggressiveness and turning a blind eye.

Other than from the indigenous communities, there was no immediate outrage for 215 dead children by our provincial and federal government leaders. No immediate call for an official day of mourning. No official flags at half mast other than the ones done at a local level. I am sure the federal government bureaucrats and lawyers are working hard to figure out their next best move. Are there are other such horrific places besides that one in Kamloops. Let that sink in. We all need to snap out of it and share an understanding. 

For those looking for further information, please check out Library and Archives Canada at https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/aboriginal-heritage/resources-researchers/Pages/residential-schools-resource-sheets.aspx

Ryan Dahlman Managing editor of Prairie Post

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