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Posted: June 25, 2021

How is unclear but why is obvious

Kootenay Crust

By Ian Cobb

Op-Ed Commentary

Journalists are trained to obtain the five Ws (who, what, when, where and why) as well as ‘how’ in their reporting.

Generally, there is failure to achieve that aim for a myriad of reasons, not the least being an ever-growing rush to report before confirming the five Ws and how.

When it comes to reporting on the unfolding residential school infliction on First Nations people and the continued discovery of unmarked graves, in Kamloops and now Marieval, Saskatchewan, reporters are nailing the W5 but how remains unclear.

Who: Canada’s First Nations people.

What: Canada’s former residential school program.

When: The past 200 or so years.

Where: All across Canada.

Why: To force assimilation of First Nations people into Anglo-Franco societies, or else.

How: … I’m at a loss to say and await forensic reports on the remains of bodies discovered in unmarked graves to explain exactly how so many children (if they are all children) wound up perishing while in SCHOOL.

Surely, and I am trying to be hopeful, some died from the diseases that ravaged First Nations peoples after the arrival of Europeans to North America, including smallpox, typhus, cholera, yellow fever and influenza.

However, the journalist in me says there is something more hideous at the root of this growing national shame.

Having toured the former St. Eugene Mission with survivors (they were called survivors long before the discovery of unmarked graves in Kamloops), and heard their harrowing, jarring and horrible stories of severe emotional and physical abuse, I have no doubt that many of those poor children who were ripped from their parents’ hands by arrogant, smug, domineering, ignorant fools came to nefarious ends.

The Cowessess First Nation June 24 announced there are 751 unmarked graves at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School, located 165 km east of Regina.

The Marieval Indian Residential School was opened in 1899 by Roman Catholic missionaries.

The federal government began funding the school in 1901 and took over administration of the school in 1969. In 1987 the school was turned over the Cowessess First Nation. It closed in 1997.

I’m going to make an assumption now; the worst period at that school was the 88 years between 1899 and 1987.

The Spanish Flu was a big deal post First World War and killed about 55,000 Canadians, so that might explain some of deaths at Marieval but it’s a sketchy stretch to suggest that it was ‘the’ cause. In 88 years, those 751 deaths equate to 8.5 a year.

In a relatively small area such as the Cowessess First Nation, tucked at the east end of Crooked Lake, that seems like a mind-bendingly huge volume of child deaths at a SCHOOL.

I don’t remember any of my fellow students perishing at school. Disgustingly, residential schools were still in full hideous operation when I went to grade school (1969-1981). So the large Winnipeg schools I attended, compared to the small country facility in Marieval, managed to not kill anyone, yet those running that small residential school, or at the Kamloops site, buried 8.5 young lives a year.

Mmmhmm. Is the concept of systemic racism reaching you yet?

If the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announcement of the 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School launched a quest to find out how those people met their end, yesterday’s announcement about the 751 unmarked graves at Marieval should launch a complete federal investigation; and a criminal one at that.

Each of the 139 residential schools established during the reign of terror inflicted on First Nations people by the Catholic Church and governments in Ottawa must be investigated and answers must be found.

And yes, blame must be assigned.

How could so many children disappear?

The easy answer is First Nations people never had a chance and never had a say. But they’ve been speaking their truths the entire time.

Canada has never bothered to listen. Shame does that to people. It’s a survival technique for the awful and criminal. Don’t listen to the truth or it will destroy you.

Our history is not a shared history. There is white Canadian history and then there is everyone else.

Racism remains a blight on our society. It is everywhere.

We have dark days ahead. Our First Nations brothers and sisters are in crisis and as more news breaks about more discoveries of unmarked graves, it will get worse.

Two Catholic churches were burned to the ground in the south Okanagan a few days ago. That is a glimpse into the anger burning in hearts.

The uncovering of these buried dark secrets is a deep wound being torn open.

While we non First Nations people may say, “this all happened before I was born so it’s not my fault or problem,” that is merely a deflection of the shame all heartful and mindful Canadians are feeling today.

Now that the scab has been torn off it is time leadership the nation over steps forward to navigate a path to the point where community is inclusive and understanding of history is mutual.

Meanwhile, we will grieve again. And again. And again.

Here is hoping the thousands of young lives lost to a regime of holier than thou monsters may serve as a beacon forward to a better Canada.

We certainly owe that to them.

I still hear the story of a St. Eugene survivor while standing in a beautifully restored hotel room overlooking the front courtyard and road yonder. The room used to be a dorm room, where children were locked in at night and beaten if they sneaked out to go to the bathroom.

The survivor, looking out the window toward the road said, “I remember seeing my mom and dad drive by and cried when they didn’t stop. I was a child and didn’t understand why.”

For a few seconds I placed my feet in his shoes and felt a chasm of despair.

How our ancestors could have turned a blind eye to these atrocities is a question all Canadians must ask themselves and they must steel themselves for the hard truth of the answer; racism.

There has got to be records hidden away in Roman Catholic archives that provide some answers and perhaps information about who is buried and where.

Either way, Pope Francis, you’re up. The apology you have not yet offered on behalf of the sordid monsters your church unleashed on Canada’s First Nations people, as well as those around the rest of the planet, will only be a start.

Canada’s government is also to be held responsible as it walked in lock step with the church at the time.

Necessary funding for ground penetrating radar work at all 139 sites across the nation needs to be provided and resources must be spent to produce the entire story that outlines the horrible deeds of our shameful past.

Image from the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre

Ian Cobb is owner/editor of e-KNOW

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