Canada… Eh? A reflection: One year after discovery of children’s unmarked graves



July 1 was “Canada Day”. In many areas, fireworks celebrated the moment and illuminated the sky with bright and vibrant colours. But, the history of the land that we currently call Canada is far from bright and vibrant. Our authentic shared history here is one of violence, oppression, and discrimination against Indigenous people, the original inhabitants of this land.

In the past year the world learned about the dark part of Canadian history when thousands of unmarked graves of children were found on former residential school grounds across the country; a truth that has long since been understood amongst Indigenous peoples. This knowledge challenges the idea of celebrating “Canada” on July 1st.

The initial findings occurred last May when the remains of as many as 215 children were found around the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia’s Interior. As the summer months progressed, more unmarked graves were discovered. This included 751 in Saskatchewan, another 182 in the Lower Kootenay Band in British Colombia, and then 160 found on the east coast of Vancouver Island.


A year later and now what? 

The initial horrific findings sparked an acceptance of what many Indigenous people have been sharing for years; stories of the horrendous treatment of children forced to attend these facilities called schools.

Last year we called on Canada to keep looking until all the graves of missing children are uncovered, and were reassured to know funds were given by both the federal government and provincial governments to support communities in their search for their lost children.

We believe Indigenous communities deserve justice, and we continue to stand with their demands for the government and the Catholic Church to be held accountable for decades of mistreating children and failing families. In April of this year, Pope Francis issued an apology for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the harm caused to generations of Indigenous people in Canada as a result of residential schools. “I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry,” he said.

But are apologies enough? Increasingly there are calls from Indigenous peoples to the church that more concrete actions are needed. For example, releasing the Vatican’s archives and historical documents to help piece together stories of what happened to some Indigenous children.

The safety and rights of all children are paramount and Indigenous children’s rights are not equally realized in Canada. It was concluded in the 2016 census that less than 8% of Canadian children under the age of 15 are Indigenous, but Indigenous youth make up more than half the children under 15 in foster care.

Compensation from Canada for inequality a step in the right direction

This past week the Canadian government signed a $20 billion agreement to compensate First Nations children and families harmed by chronic underfunding in the child welfare system. Progress is being made, and, as a regional chief at the Assembly of First Nations described it, “……historic milestone for our children and their families.” While it is a right step, Metis, Inuit, and children living off-reserve are not included in this agreement.

Last year’s findings were horrific and merely started a dialogue around reconciliation. But until there are more concrete steps taken to back up apologies, like releasing all historical records, providing adequate funding for the mental health of communities destroyed by the trauma, and funding for the revitalization of stolen and lost cultures, the work linked to reconciliation is far from complete.

Right now various Indigenous-led organizations are fighting and advocating to improve the lives of Indigenous people in Canada. Please visit a few of them and lend your support and follow them on social media to learn more:


The Caring Society (

Orange Shirt Society (

Donate – Tsow-Tun Le Lum SocietyTsow-Tun Le Lum Society (

Donate — Indian Residential School Survivors Society (





Unmarked graves: Timeline of events since Kamloops finding | CTV News

A year of pain and healing since 751 unmarked graves announced at Cowessess First Nation | CBC News

Canada sets $15B deal over Indigeneous child welfare flaws – ABC News (

After Pope’s apology, Quebec First Nations call for concrete action from Catholic Church | CBC News