By Saara Itkonen, chief librarian at the Creston Public Library
By now the horrific news – that the remains of 215 Indigenous children have been found on the grounds of a former Kamloops residential school – has been reported by local, national, and international news.
A total of 215 children from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, who were taken from their families, their homes, and their communities by the Canadian government and never returned, have been found under the earth in unmarked graves in Kamloops, B.C.
With the publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Report in 2015, many Indigenous Elders shared their stories of children disappearing, dying, and being buried in unmarked graves. And now the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation have uncovered physical evidence to corroborate these stories.
As a white woman, a child of Finnish immigrants, and the grandchild of grandparents who received loans to move to Canada specifically because of their white skin, my voice in this story is irrelevant. But I will share the voices of Indigenous people and writers who have already shared their important stories with us. You can find these titles, and many more, at the Creston Valley Public Library.
• Behind Closed Doors: Stories from the Kamloops Indian Residential Schools – Secwepemc Cultural Education Society (2 copies, Adult Non-Fiction)
• Broken Circle: The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools: a memoir – Theodore Fontaine (ebook)
• A Century of Genocide in the Americas: The Residential School Experience – Rosemary Gibbons (DVD, Adult Non-Fiction)
• The Education of Augie Merasty: a residential school memoir – Joseph Auguste Merasty (ebook)
• UNeducation: a residential school graphic novel vol.1 – Jason Eaglespeaker (Adult Graphic Novels)
• Sugar Falls: a residential school story – David Robertson (Young Adult Graphic Novel)
• I Am Not a Number – Jenny Kay Dupuis (Junior Non-Fiction)
• These Are My Words: the residential school diary of Violet Pesheens – Ruby Slipperjack (Junior Fiction, ebook)
• From Bear Rock Mountain: the life and times of a Dene residential school survivor – Antoine Mountain (Adult Non-Fiction)
• They Called Me Number One: secrets and survival at an Indian residential school – Bev Sellers (Adult Non-Fiction, ebook)
It shouldn’t take unearthing the actual remains of children for all of us to believe Indigenous people’s stories of survival. But I’m sure that for some in the settler community, the news has come as a shock. I’m sure there are also people that don’t want to believe that the Canadian government deliberately murdered children through residential schools. But this is our colonial history and very much the colonial present, no matter how much we would like to believe this is all in the past. The truth is, the “dark chapter” continues to this day. I grew up down the street from the St. Mary’s residential school in Mission, B.C., that was still open when I was young.
And the generational trauma of Indigenous communities across Canada is still enacted by a government that continues to perpetuate harm in a myriad of other ways.
So now, finally, it is important that settlers in Canada – even in communities like Creston – stop saying, “We didn’t know.” Enough. It’s not an acceptable excuse. My uncle, an immigrant from Germany who grew up in the post-war years while his nation dealt with the horrors of the Holocaust, always says the question should always be, “What are you willing to find out?” And, at the very least, you can start by doing the reading.