In recent months, headlines about the discovery of bodies in anonymous graves at residential school sites have horrified audiences in Canada and around the world – but they only capture part of a multigenerational injustice that has been described as “cultural genocide”.
About 150,000 Indigenous children were reported to have attended government-funded residential schools, most of which were run by the Catholic Church. Schools had existed for over a century and were specifically designed to separate children from their families and culture; the last one closed in 1996. Thousands of survivors have described appalling physical and sexual abuse. It is largely believed that those who died suffered from malnutrition, illness or neglect. Their families were often not informed of their deaths.
While more than 1,100 bodies have been found to date, many more are expected, after years of work by indigenous communities to force the search to take place. Some estimates suggest that 15,000 children may have died in schools. Others say the real figure could be much higher.
Rachel Humphreys talk to Barry kennedy, survivor of Marieval school where 751 bodies were found, who told her: “They are my former students, and I must speak up so that this never happens again.” He describes his experiences at school and how they shaped the rest of his life. And as he contemplates these memories in the context of new discoveries, he describes the importance of holding on to cultural traditions that the Canadian state has already sought to eradicate.
Humphreys also talks to Leyland Cecco, who reported the story to the Guardian. It sets out the larger context of attempts to erase Indigenous identities – and the continuing criticism of the Canadian government for failing to deliver on promises to right this historic wrong, the impact of which is still profoundly felt today.
- If you are in the UK and have been affected by any of the issues raised in this episode, or if you are concerned that a child you know may be at risk of being abused, you can contact the National Association for People Abused. in Childhood at napac.org .uk or 0808 801 0331. The NSPCC also offers child support at nspcc.org.uk or 0808 800 5000.
- In Canada, Crisis Services Canada can be contacted anytime at 1.833.456.4566, or by text at 45645 from 4:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET.
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