Honouring the Lost and Missing Indigenous Children of Canada

| June 2, 2021

Between 1831 and 1996 an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children from communities across Canada were removed, often forcibly, from their homes and sent to Indian Residential Schools financed by the Government of Canada and operated by major religious institutions. The goal was to convert Indigenous children to Christianity and assimilate them into Euro-Canadian culture. Children were separated from their families and communities and sent to boarding schools for most of the year. They were prohibited from speaking their languages, practicing their own faiths and observing their own cultural traditions under threat of harsh punishment meted out by the school administrators. Children at Residential Schools suffered unimaginable physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Malnourishment and disease were rampant. According to extensive research, mortality rates of Indigenous children at Residential Schools were between 40-60%. Thousands of children never returned home, their families never notified of their fates. The children who did return, along with their families and communities, were deeply traumatized.

Last week, the remains of 215 Indigenous children from the former Kamloops Indian Residential School were uncovered in an unmarked mass grave. There are many more such sites, known and unknown, that remain to be uncovered. All of us at the Juno Beach Centre are devastated to learn of the tragic loss of each of these precious children. We send our condolences to the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nations, and Indigenous communities throughout the country. We grieve alongside them for their children who died, for those still missing, for the survivors, for the injustices and trauma First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples have faced for generations. The Canadian flag at the Juno Beach Centre is flying at half-mast in honour of these lost children.

Taking our lead from Indigenous leaders who have advocated to bring awareness about Residential Schools to the forefront, and our own work to preserve and honour history through education, we encourage our Juno Beach community to visit the following resources to learn about the history and legacy of Residential Schools in Canada – a difficult and painful, yet vitally important part of our national heritage.

1837 photograph from Kamloops Indian Residential School.

As Canada’s Second World War memorial and educational centre in France, we honour the service of thousands of Indigenous men and women who served during the war, many of whom were directly affected by the Residential School system, and all of whom faced prejudice and injustice home as they themselves fought for the freedom of others. For those interested in understanding more about the contributions to and the experiences of Indigenous soldiers during and after the Second World War, we recommend this article by Shawkay Ottman, Anishinaabe historian from Fishing Lake First Nation, SK, as a starting point. An excellent list of further reading with links is included at the bottom of the article.

Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at jbca@junobeach.org.

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