Information provided by Blood Tribe Department of Health
May 31, 2021 Blood Indian Reserve, Alberta – Today the Kainai Nation stands in solidarity with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation who have just found the buried remains of 215 children as young as three years old, on the site of what used to be Canada’s largest residential school. The gruesome discovery has rekindled Indigenous demands for justice and action as First Nations across the country are reliving the tragic, heartbreaking devastation that the Canadian residential school system inflicted upon so many Indigenous peoples.
“We stand with our relatives to the west, the Tk̓ emlúps te Secwépemc, as they mourn and process the loss of 215 children whose spirits can now go home. The collective connection from all four directions is testament to the spiritual strength of our ancestral teachings, ways of knowing and being. We must unite and forge forward in this light of spiritual strength so that justice is realized. The 2008 Apology, the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and the countless voices who shout for action, can no longer be ignored. The time for Action is now, all Canadians have a responsibility in the plight for “systemic reconciliation,” says Aipiihkwikomootakii, Terrilyn Fox, Kainai Wellness Program Director.
Flags on federal buildings have been lowered to half-mast to honour the children and several provincial legislatures and municipalities have done the same. Canada has pledged its assistance in helping First Nations find missing and unidentified children who died at Indian residential schools and in 2019, Justin Trudeau pledged “to end this ongoing tragedy.” Vigils and prayer ceremonies across Canada are paying tribute to the dead since news of the grisly discovery was announced last week. Indigenous leaders and advocates are pressing governments to do more to help Indigenous communities recover from the devastating colonial legacy of residential schools. An impromptu memorial sprung up in Vancouver and Lethbridge over the weekend as mourners laid out a pair of empty children’s shoes for each of the dead.
The Blood Tribe Department of Health is also paying tribute, donning orange t-shirts on Monday and building a colourful, orange themed display beside highway #2, visible to all passing traffic. The Blood Tribe has also organized a “Joins in Grief and Support of the 215 Children Buried in Mass Grave” event at the Kainai Wellness Centre in Standoff, Alberta on Thursday, June 3 that will be live streamed.
In September 2020, the Kainai Wellness Program held a ceremony “Remembering children who died” at the two Indian Residential Schools on the Blood Reserve – St. Paul’s and St. Mary’s, – and other residential schools were honored at a ceremony during an Orange Shirt Day event on September 30, 2020, hosted by the Wellness Program. “According to the National Student Memorial Register, an official list of children/students who did not return home after being placed at the local residential schools has been drafted and shared. The register lists 117 children from the Blood Reserve residential schools – 76 children died or went missing from St. Paul’s (Anglican) residential school and 41 children from St. Mary’s (Catholic) residential school didn’t return home. The ceremony, included, for the first time, the sharing of known names of children lost to the schools. This is part of our own reconciliation, to ourselves, our trauma, and for the seven generations before us, and that will come after us,” said Aipiihkwikomootakii.
Meanwhile, Canada’s House of Commons fast-tracked a bill that would create a new national holiday commemorating children who died while in residential schools. The discovery has also prompted renewed scrutiny of the Roman Catholic Church, which operated the Kamloops Indian Residential school from 1890 to 1969. The Catholic Church has yet to comment or issue an apology of its own for its role in opening and running the schools with well-documented endemic sexual, physical, emotional and mental abuse; neglect; illness; disease; experimental programs; sterilization and cultural genocide.
The Canadian Government formally apologized in 2008 and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a personal appeal to Pope Francis in 2018, but the request was rejected. The Pope did not make mention of the horrific discovery during his Mass at the Vatican on Sunday.
Canadian authorities removed nearly 150,000 Indigenous children from their families between 1883 and 1996 and sent them to residential schools, where Indigenous languages and traditions were strictly banned and students were often subjected to neglect and abuse. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined in 2015 that their use constituted “cultural genocide.”