Not so long ago a grim discovery was made. I use the term “discovery” in a Columbus kind of connotation because what was found was no secret to the Indigenous people of this land. For years Elders have been telling their stories. Advocates have been pushing the government to investigate. Those of us who had been listening knew what they would find.
The news exploded in the media. Suddenly it was harder to look away. Suddenly it got harder to deny. Now there were bodies. Real bodies. The bodies of babies stolen from their homes and families, hidden away in the ground at the hands of our country*. The population was forced to take a look at something that we have collectively been taught to actively ignore.
*Yes, we’re mad at churches too, but keep in mind that about 60% of the residential schools were run by the Catholics, many were Anglican and other versions of Christian as well. We often focus only on the church and its involvement, but the government had a hand in every single school. Never forget that.
And everyone was “shocked”.
I know that this is closer for me than it is for people of mostly European blood. In attending an Indigenous college and focusing on Indigenous history I have also had the pleasure of working closely with many Indigenous people from all over Turtle Island. We had a class on the day after the announcement, and the country was reeling. Canada’s dirty secret was out and it was the hot topic of the hour.
Talk radio. Message boards. Social media.
There was no getting away from the news of this discovery but amidst the chaos of virality, there were real people experiencing very real trauma and pain. Healing circles were a powerful tool for many. Prayer, drumming, singing and creating safe spaces where people could share their thoughts and feelings took precedence over class work. That day we spent our class time in conversation, sorting out what had just happened.
More than one student in my class had relatives who had attended the school.
Some of those relatives had never come home.
When I say that I’m close to these issues, this is what I mean. I know people who are directly impacted because I am actively involved in Indigenous communities. The majority of the people in this country can’t say the same. It’s exactly what colonization was intended to do – separate, dehumanize, assimilate, marginalize, and ultimately erase.
I mentioned earlier that everyone was “shocked” by this discovery, and let me tell you my friends I was livid. There was no shock about this for anyone who had been paying attention. It was 2021 for God’s sake, everyone knew about residential schools by now, didn’t they? I ranted to my fellow classmates.
“At this point in time there is no excuse for being shocked. I know that they didn’t teach this in schools and we all left not having a clue what Canada really looked like, but if you don’t know at least the basics about residential school by now it is willful ignorance.”
I took a sharp breath in and my teacher seized her moment.
“Lindsay, I feel exactly like you. I do. I just want to remind you to seek your opportunities throughout the next few weeks. You have a unique perspective to share, and you can’t get your point across when you’re yelling angrily at your audience. Consider this,” she said, pausing for effect. “They’re here and they’re listening now.”
Humbling words. It opened my eyes to something that often isn’t spoken about and I want to be really clear for all my very non-Indigenous friends so I’m going to make these statements as simple and straightforward as I can.
It is not the job of Indigenous people to educate you on Indigenous issues.
Do not expect an Indigenous person to retraumatize themselves to satisfy your curiosities.
Residential school is not a casual conversation you bring up whenever. Please be mindful and respectful of how personal this topic is.
And for good measure, I just want to remind everyone that there is a huge difference between an Indigenous person being “racist against white people” and an Indigenous person holding contempt for colonizing oppressors.
Luckily there are almost endless resources available to anyone who wants to learn more about the real history of Canada and the impact that colonization has had on Indigenous peoples across this land since contact. If you would like to know more, I’m always available to point you in the direction of your choosing from healthcare to addiction to intimate partner violence.