Residential school tragedies should be remembered
The discovery of human remains at the site of a former residential school has sparked a firestorm that has already resulted in demands for another national investigation and hugely expensive forensic and excavation projects. But maybe we should take a break and ask a few questions.
Kamloops Indian Residential School operated as a residential school from 1890 to 1969. Its maximum enrollment was around 500 in the 1950s. While there was understandably a wave of sympathy, it is not known how many. bodies detected were students in residence. It’s also not clear that there was even anything sinister about the find.
In fact, it is shocking that many people seem quite willing to accept slanderous conspiracy theories about teachers and priests secretly murdering and burying hundreds of children.
There are many forgotten cemeteries in Canada. It is much more likely that the deaths simply reflected the grim reality of life at the time. We should take a look at the story.
Tuberculosis was a major killer, and it did not spare the children. From 1890 to the 1950s, he was responsible for numerous child deaths.
The flu was also a particularly deadly disease for indigenous peoples. The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed a disproportionate number of Indigenous people, but even the regular flu was particularly deadly for them.
Other diseases that have practically disappeared, such as whooping cough, meningitis and measles, have systematically killed the children of yesterday.
The disease has claimed the lives of many members of all demographic groups, but indigenous peoples have suffered the most. They died mostly in their home communities, where the Grim Reaper was still nearby. Infected children entered residential schools and infected others. Many have died.
In our comfortable days, we forget how hard life was 100+ years ago – the world of Dickensian chimney sweeps and the poor house.
Stories are written about Canada’s “children at home”, for example. These were mainly English orphans and children from poor homes taken from their parents and sent by themselves to Canada. Small children – some of whom were only seven years old – arrived with cardboard signs around their necks announcing their free work.
The boys were taken away by the farmers and used as labor in exchange for their subsistence. The girls would be used as servants. Some have received good treatment; some were very badly treated. Many died alone and forgotten. It is a coincidence that the number of children in the home was roughly equal to the total number of children who attended residential schools – 150,000.
The Home Children are just one example of the sadness that was part of the lives of all the poor children who were unfortunate enough to be born during that time. Indigenous children suffered more than most. This historical excerpt in no way diminishes the importance of the Kamloops discovery. But you have to consider the harshness of times gone by before letting emotion take precedence over common sense.
The dead must be honored appropriately, but we must be aware that some opportunists will exploit these dead children for financial and political gain. The story of residential schools has now been fully told. Canadians heard it – and we understood it. We hit it off and billions of dollars were paid by people, most of whom weren’t alive at the time, to people who mostly weren’t either.
It is time to move on.
Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a senior fellow at the Frontier Center for Public Policy.
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