Canada is facing a reckoning

A pair of hands hoving over the keyboard of a laptop
 on November 1, 2019

I have heard many Elders say, “Children are the center of our bundle.” In Anishnawbe culture, the bundle holds ceremonial items and is greatly revered. When the wise ones say that children are the centre of our bundle, they speak to the profound sanctity and spiritual gifts of little ones. This worldview prioritizes children as leaders, who remind older folks to play, to be our true selves, to speak in kindness, and the importance of safety. Children are sacred and should be at the centre of our collective life. Yet we are living in a world that is often not friendly to children: too many Indigenous children are stolen from their web of community, too many do not have clean water to drink, and too many choose to end their own lives than grow up in a world they feel estranged from.

As colonialism swept across Indigenous territories, one of the major pathways of violence against Indigenous nationhood was to lay systematic assault on Indigenous families to undermine clan systems of governance. The Church-run Indian Residential Schools stole generations of children from their loving bonds, and countless loved ones never returned home, some still lying in unmarked graves. On Sept. 30 at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, a ceremony was held to honour those who died at the residential schools and recite some of their names, for the first time ever in public. There are not yet accurate numbers of how many children died in the residential schools. In 2015, the Unmarked Burials Working Group of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its investigation. It accounted for 4,200 deceased children – yet this work is far from over, as some experts estimate the number to be at least 8,000 children. I invite you in this moment to take a breath to honour those thousands of little ones who never made it home from residential school.

Canada is facing a reckoning, as the names come forward and unmarked graves are unearthed. The Canadian state was established by undermining and systemically assaulting Indigenous governance and sovereignty over this land. Concurrent with the taking of children from families is the practice of the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people. Sterilization was a punishment used to discipline girls in several residential schools. In some communities, such as Naujaat, Nunavut, 50 per cent of Inuit women of age were forcibly sterilized in the 1970s. From the 1930s to the 1970s in Alberta and British Columbia, the forced sterilization of Indigenous women was policy and practice. Tragically, forced sterilization and child apprehension are not bygone realities of the past for many Indigenous families – they are ongoing experiences. The destabilization, sterilization and forced breaking up of Indigenous families is willful policy, deliberate acts of genocide in continuum with the initial colonization of these lands and spiritual ecosystems.

The term genocide was created by Raphael Lemkin, who wrote that “colonization was in itself intrinsically genocidal.” He saw genocide as the tactics of disfiguring and destroying a community’s ability to continue and perpetuate its identity. The UN adopted his definition in 1948 and states that genocide is: “Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) killing members of the group;

(b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Canada has certainly fulfilled this definition of genocide, and still survivors continue to rise up and courageously reveal a path towards healing, justice, and truth. As Christians, we are called to proclaim the truth and pray for the mercy of God, as we have often been complicit and active in acts of terror on Indigenous bodies and bonds of love.

I honour all who grieve the loss of their children to child apprehension, the residential schools, and those who were forcibly sterilized in a genocidal act to stop the babbling voices of Indigenous babies on this land. In an era of great forces of destruction, may we rise in prayerful solidarity with all families separated by borders, prisons, detention centres, wars, ecological disasters, and all forces that attack love. Our young ones have inherited a landscape violated by colonial greed and pollution, yet their prophetic voices resound from every continent that the time to repent has come. We must awaken and change our path of exploitation, desecration, and ongoing colonialism. When Indigenous children are not held in their rightful place as sacred beings, our society spirals into deeper sickness, and requires our commitment to healing and repentance. May we all commit ourselves, our souls and bodies, to the prophet Isaiah’s dream, that all beings of creation shall be at peace with each other and a little child shall lead. Amen, so be it.


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