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Large group of people wearing orange walk down the road
Members of the Tsuut'ina Nation take part in a silent march in memory of the 215 children whose remains were found in Kamloops. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Indian Residential Schools: Acts of genocide, deceit and control by church and state

Tragically, the global community has learned that 215 Indigenous children never got the chance to return home from Kamloops Indian Residential School. And more recently, the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation identified 104 potential graves at the former Brandon Indian Residential School.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Indigenous scholar and academic director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia, told NBC News: “Mass graves are a legacy of conflict and human rights violations in other parts of the world….”

The denial of genocide and crimes against humanity in Canada by the church and state can no longer be ignored.

These acts of genocide are the greatest affront to humanity.

Read more: Canada's hypocrisy: Recognizing genocide except its own against Indigenous peoples

Indigenous people have always understood the sacredness and central role of children in our societies — to model Indigenous holism and maintain connections to the land and thus, our future. Colonialism has disrupted these connections.

Since the establishment of man-made hegemonic structures began with religion, imperialism continues with colonialism, which has led to the dispossession of Indigenous people.

This dispossession was a key feature of control and colonialism in North America and other parts of the world. It was the means to assimilating into British citizenship.

For example, the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand was created and signed by Māori Chiefs and the British Crown to enable all features of colonialism and assimilation as a British subject. However, 90 years later, assimilation was not successful.

Indigenous students sit at desks in a classroom looking up at a teacher
Indigenous children in class with a teacher at an Indian Residential School in Québec. (Library and Archives Canada, PA-212965), CC BY

It becomes clear that assimilation was not successful in Canada either because the government found it necessary to mandate attendance at IRS. As Indigenous children struggled through a foreign curriculum and system that attempted to strip away their traditional way of life, they unknowingly were trying to survive acts of genocide.

These acts of genocide were strategically implemented by church and state to remove Indigenous people from their land and, in turn, their culture through dispossession.

Both of us have a personal connection to this. Cynthia Stirbys is a fourth generation descendant of Indian Residential Schools survivors. Her research — Potentializing wellness to overcome trauma — focuses on patterns and causes of intergenerational trauma. Amelia McComber attended theological school to examine the role of the church in the lives of Indigenous people. She concluded that the state used the church as a tool to break down Indigenous societies.

Religion and control

Residential schools were primarily run by the Catholic church. Since its adoption by the Roman Empire, Catholicism became entwined with notions of divine-sanctioned conquest and the church concerned itself with control, money, capitalism and land acquisition.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report reiterated as much:

While they often worked in isolation and under difficult conditions, missionaries were representatives of worldwide organizations that enjoyed the backing of influential individuals in some of the most powerful nations of the world, and which came to amass considerable experience in transforming different cultures. Residential schools figured prominently in missionary work, not only in Canada, but also around the world. Christian missionaries played a complex but central role in the European colonial project. Their presence helped justify the extension of empires, since they were visibly spreading the word of God to the heathen. If their efforts were unsuccessful, the missionaries might conclude that those who refused to accept the Christian message could not expect the protection of the church or the law, thus clearing the way for their destruction.

A group of nuns with Indigenous children stand outside of a building, black and white photo
A group of nuns with Indigenous children in Port Harrison, Que., circa 1890. (H. J. Woodside. Library and Archives Canada, PA-123707), CC BY

In Christ’s teachings, we have understood the significance and central role of children in our global societies to represent the future. Central to his teachings are: “Let the little children come to me ….”

The meaning of Jesus’ teachings have been co-opted throughout history to support the agenda of the powerful. The discovery of the 215 children reveal this deceit.

Indigenous legal scholar Tamara Starblanket was recently quoted in an article, Reckoning with genocide and the denialism of the Canadian State:

“The laws and policies that force our children’s removal are about our lands and how to gain domination over the lands, minerals, waters, and airspace. The government attempted forcible denationalization, … by massive and widespread forcible indoctrination. … The effect is that our children do not understand their responsibilities, languages, cultures, spirituality, laws and direct connection to our lands and their duty to protect our lands for future generations.”

The heartache of being separated from our land and sacred spaces, while unbelievably painful, does not compare to the heartache of losing our children and having them separated from their families and communities.

It becomes clear that Indigenous Peoples were being targeted with the implementation of Indian Residential Schools. Through the physical removal of Indigenous children from their communities, the church and state were dispossessing Indigenous people by attempting to strip them of culture and trying to assimilate them into broader Canadian society.

Humanity remains in a state of sickness

The United Nations Human Rights Office has called on the Canadian government to ensure “prompt and exhaustive investigations” into the deaths of Indigenous children are done, and to find their bodies by searching unmarked graves.

The paradox of the situation forces the global community to accept the dark truth of the loss of 215 innocent Indigenous children in Canada. The discovery has shed light on the state of the world and the self-interests of church and state have been so apparent that humanity remains in a state of sickness and ecological imbalance.

If you are an Indian Residential School survivor, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

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