Please note the story below contains difficult content regarding residential schools in Canada. Indigenous survivors and their family in need of support can contact the Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at anytime 24/7: 1-866-925-4419.

Children’s shoes were placed in front of a church in Kahnawake, in memory of the 215 children whose remains were found in a mass grave at a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. (Chloe Ranaldi/CBC)
Children’s shoes were placed in front of a church in Kahnawake, in memory of the 215 children whose remains were found in a mass grave at a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. (Chloe Ranaldi/CBC) © Chloe Ranaldi/CBC

215 children. Buried in a mass grave. Unmarked on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation made the discovery after a search of the property using ground-penetrating radar. The gravesite includes the bodies of children as young as three years old.

This finding has triggered an outpouring of sorrow, shock and rage from across Canada and beyond. Finding 215 bodies of children on the grounds of a former residential school is horrific. But it is not a surprise. 

Residential school survivors have spoken out for decades about mass graveyards adjacent to residential schools. Six years ago today, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its final report. The TRC estimated that up to 6000 children died in residential schools, and many of these undocumented. That’s 1 out of every 25 children who attended. 

On the day the news broke, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that it is “a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history”. But this is not history, and the chapter is not closed. 

On this day six years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released a road map for Canada to begin to heal the scars of residential schools and address their continuing legacy of injustice. Yet the Federal government and other institutions have done painfully little to fulfill the TRC’s Calls to Action. As it stands today, only a handful of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action have been fully implemented (just 10 out of 94 according to the CBC).

Residential schools are just one part of an ongoing genocide that spans well over a century. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls concluded that genocide is the appropriate term for the experience of Indigenous Peoples in Canada after consulting with international legal scholars and experts: 

“This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools, and breaches of human and Inuit, Métis and First Nations rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations.”

We see evidence of this continuing genocide today in the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system. In the continued disappearance of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. In the Federal government fighting residential school survivors in court. In decades-long boil water advisories. And in the many ongoing attempts to exclude Indigenous Peoples from their lands so as to extract resources via environmental destruction.

Together we must push for the discovery of 215 children to be a tipping point for greater accountability and justice for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. 

Here are ways you can take action:

Support Indigenous-led calls to fully implement all of the TRC’s Calls to Action

Tweet at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to demand the Federal government fully implement the TRC’s calls to action:

. enough is enough. It wasn’t just a ‘dark chapter’ and the chapter isn’t closed. It’s time for your government to fully implement the

Donate to Indigenous organizations

Donate to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation: [email protected] 

Donate to support counselling and other services for residential school survivors and their families: Indian Residential School Survivors Society

Donate to support First Nations child and family service agencies: First Nations Child & Family Caring Society

Donate to support advocacy for Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people: Native Women’s Association of Canada

Donate to support Indigenous communities fighting legal battles for their land and rights: Raven Trust

Deepen your knowledge of Canada’s colonial past and present

Learn more about residential schools and the TRC’s Calls to Action:

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report and Calls to Action

Calls to Action Accountability: A 2020 Status Update on Reconciliation

Reading list: https://www.instagram.com/p/CPgBXWZNXBb/

Podcast: https://www.instagram.com/p/CPhGlZ6t_Z9/

Films/Documentaries: https://www.instagram.com/p/CPghcIPtCYi/

Read The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Join Indigenous Canada, a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that explores Indigenous histories and key issues facing Indigenous peoples today.

Check out the variety of learning resources on the Settlers Take Action page of the On Canada Project.