A few days ago, we learned of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the old Kamloops Indian Residential School. During the course of the TRC, we heard stories of children going missing or being killed as we moved from city to city. Among survivors, many stories were shared about friends disappearing and it was known they were killed, however survivors were not believed.
I am not surprised that graves were found at schools across the country. However, I am surprised that 215 children’s remains were found at one school. I served 6 years with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and the report refers to cultural genocide not genocide.
The horrific crimes happened at the hands of Catholics. A Christian organization meant to help the poorest of the poor - not kill them. The families did not know of their demise and family members went to their graves without closure or knowledge of their passing. The evilness of their acts goes beyond measure.
There has been no accountability or remorse from the Catholic Church
During the 6 years of TRC, the Catholic Church entity was non compliant on several articles to the IRS Agreement whilst we were trying to document the truth about the schools.
From the outset, the Catholics withheld school records that compensation claims were based upon. They said they were lost, stolen and burned in fires at various schools. Documents they kept were very detailed as they were relied upon to ensure cash flowed to the schools from the Federal Government. The Catholic Church likely destroyed the documents to cover up the horrific details of their crimes, such as what happened in Kamloops.
In addition, Catholics did not pay their portion of the compensation to survivors as agreed to by church entities in the Indian Residential School Agreement. The Government of Canada covered their portion because they could not hold them responsible. Every local church became its own entity, thus avoiding legal responsibility as a whole. An institution with the best real estate in Canada, stolen Indigenous Lands, did not pay and did not accept responsibility.
One of the 94 Calls to Action by the TRC is that the Catholic Church issue an apology for Indian Residential Schools (IRS) and the harms caused to innocent children. To date the Pope has refused to apologize for the serious harms caused by the IRS. This reflects a lack of respect and accountability to Indigenous Peoples at the highest level. Catholics continue to devalue our very existence by denying the harms done against our Peoples.
This is a continued pattern of dehumanization and racism. When individuals are reduced to a number, and they aim to “take the Indian out of the child”, they would not feel guilty for murder. Savages and heathens deserved conversion and assimilation under colonialism and patriarchy. Totally void of moral standards. The Catholic church did not take responsibility.
The trauma and failure of the IAP
The Independent Assessment Process (IAP) was a component of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. The IAP was supposedly a non-adversarial, out-of-court process to resolve claims of sexual abuse, serious physical abuse, and other wrongful acts that have caused serious psychological harm to former students of Indian Residential Schools. The process was everything it was not supposed to be. This compensation process caused unimaginable pain and mental and psychological anguish, leading to addictions and suicide.
After providing testimony at the IAP, survivors were pressured under duress to sign a waiver to destroy all documents relating to their case. Survivors were told if they did not sign the waiver they would not qualify for compensation. This pressure came immediately following the hearing and complainants signed in many cases without memory of doing so. The details given in the hearings by survivors was horrendous. They had to give a detailed account of horrific acts of sexual and physical abuse. The perpetrators were monsters and inflicted the worst forms of abuse imaginable upon innocent children.
All documents from the IAP process will be destroyed in October of 2027. All evidence of crimes against humanity against helpless children will be erased from Canadian history. This is the only place this evidence currently exists. No one takes responsibility.
The IAP heard the most horrific details imaginable of abuse, torture, dehumanization and this will all go up in smoke. Documents will be destroyed and history will be rewritten to cover up genocide. The destruction of documents is compliant with the Supreme Court of Canada order. Shame. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation unsuccessfully intervened in the case. Preservation of the IAP and the truth proved to be unpopular as the NCTR suffered multiple attacks from lawyers supposedly representing survivors.
What is needed now
Survivors, families and communities need trauma informed support. Intergenerational survivors need help that is designed and managed by their communities. We don’t need organizations to decide for them or manage them any longer. It is time to decolonize this way of thinking that controls and limits communities' abilities and resilience.
The burial sites are crime scenes, and extensive investigations must be conducted to find out the painful details of the babies and children’s deaths. Do the right thing Canada. Let’s give the children the respect and honour they never had in their short lives.
During the TRC’s mandate, no charges were ever laid against perpetrators and they were given impunity by the colonizers who are complicit in the death of innocent children. No more protecting the abusers and murders if they are still alive. For those who are not, may they burn in the hell they created for us.
There were around 150,000 children who attended the 139 Indian Residential Schools. The TRC reported there were 4,100 deaths at the schools, this did not include the 215 babies and children hidden in graves in Kamloops. This is also the case with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry - no killers were held accountable. Killing with impunity seems to be the colonizer's justice.
While we knew all along that children were killed, we were not believed. It took ground penetrating radar to find the dear ones. This is genocide and sadly there are many such sites at former schools across Canada. The TRC asked for $1.5 million dollars to complete the search for missing children and was denied. Now we know why. The Federal Government covered up and denied that they are guilty of genocide against the Indigenous Peoples, and in this case the Catholic Church did the the killing.
This is a national emergency. Our people need programs to heal and strengthen our future generations to live happy healthy lives. We need to regroup and make a plan that will address our urgent health outcomes. Suicide, overdose, all addictions, incarceration, violence against Indigenous women and children and Indigenous racism is our pandemic.
Are we survivors the lucky ones? We got to marry, have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Who are now facing the stark reality - they really meant to get rid of us. Genocide brings this discussion to a whole new level. We Indigenous Peoples are resilient but how much more can we take?
Let’s be clear - we will rise... like smoke from grandfather's campfire. We will rise.
I am a survivor of the Indian Residential School and Indigenous genocide. In my mind it was always genocide.
Kukdookaa Terri Brown
Terri is a Crow Clan member of the Tahltan Nation. She has a daughter, two sons and six granddaughters. She lived a traditional lifestyle until she was apprehended and sent to a residential school in Yukon. Her father who was a trapper and mother looked after the family of 8. Terri is former Chief of her people and former President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Terri founded the Sisters in Spirit Program to document the deaths and disappearance of Indigenous sisters. She served 6 years with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada with a mandate to inform all Canadians about what happened in the residential schools. Terri is a survivor of cultural genocide and this motivates her to work for equality, justice and peace for all.
Terri is a board director of Women Transforming Cities.