When I saw this story from CNN, I immediately thought of my mother and her siblings, the scope of similar crimes in the United States and what still lies beneath.
The story: “(CNN)The gruesome discovery took decades and for some survivors of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Canada, the confirmation that children as young as 3 were buried on school grounds crystallizes the sorrow they have carried all their lives.
“I lost my heart, it was so much hurt and pain to finally hear, for the outside world, to finally hear what we assumed was happening there,” said Harvey McLeod, who attended the school for two years in the late 1960s, in a telephone interview with CNN Friday.
“The story is so unreal, that yesterday it became real for a lot of us in this community,” he said.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community in the southern interior of British Columbia, where the school was located, released a statement
late Thursday saying an “unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented” was confirmed.”
”Native families were coerced by the federal government and Catholic Church officials into sending their children to live and attend classes at boarding schools. (About one-third of the 357 known Indian boarding schools were managed by various Christian denominations.) According to the Act’s text, Christian missionaries and other “persons of good moral character” were charged with introducing Native children to “the habits and arts of civilization” while encouraging them to abandon their traditional languages, cultures, and practices.”
The institutions were run by Catholic churches and other denominations, funded by the government — mirroring the conservative Christian Republican goal of funneling taxpayer money to religious institutions to run social and educational programs.
The abuse endured in these institutions by the children was horrific; emotional, starvation, death by neglect and disease, sexual, forced labor, physical.
My mother and her siblings were raised in several similar institutions in the northwest; first at a small orphanage and school run by protestant missionaries and then farther into the interior, in a home run by protestant missionary women that also housed orphans of color from other countries. My mother and the other children were rented out as free labor to farmers to pick produce during harvest time. Mom was indoctrinated with conservative Christian views that were anti-semitic, self-hating and fearful. She was physically forced to eat food that she didn’t want and suffered eating problems for years. We would only get snippets of her history but the trauma she and her sister experienced later bloomed into periods of mental illness and emotional abuse endured by my cousins and myself. We became long-haul caregivers and it nearly broke us.
I don’t know if H.R.8420 – Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy Act will help to heal the damage from the crimes committed against families but it would be a start. It’s been just over a year since Mom passed from dementia during the height of COVID; in her later years, she became delightfully radical in embracing her Native American self so I feel that in spirit, she would greatly support a “give ‘em hell” truth telling and pushback against hiding the crimes of genocide and culture erasure.