An open letter from Kluane Adamek, Yukon Regional Chief, Assembly of First Nations
Canada Day is tomorrow, but first I want to tell you about what I am attending today, the demolition of what was formerly the Lower Post Residential School, will be held. My Grandmother, Ch’aali umà, sadly passed away this January. From the age of 7 years to well into her teens, she attended the Lower Post Residential School. Like many others, she won’t be there to see this horrific building finally torn down. It was operational from 1950 to 1975. In August 2012 I attended the gathering for survivors, with family, including my Grandma. Today comes full circle, as exactly 46 years from the day it was decommissioned, we will finally see this scar on our souls destroyed so the community and the thousands of lives impacted, will never have to look at that building again.
The Lower Post Residential School at one point held over 600 children. There were countless cases of sexual and physical abuse. My Grandma told me about her horrific experiences. No child should have ever had to experience these atrocities. One staff member alone, was charged with 28 counts of sexual abuse. Children as young as four years old were taken from their homes and stripped of their language and culture. Many were beaten, sexually abused or raped.
Yet, we are still here.
We know from the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and recent reports that there is an undocumented and unaccounted for number of children who died in these hellish places. The physical and emotional scars left on the survivors who bore witness to these atrocities have impacted generations of Indigenous people. I am one of these many people. These impacts are real, and they are experienced every single day. The last few weeks have been filled with gut wrenching details. Many of our children died in schools set up by the Canadian government, run by churches, with the intention of assimilating our people. A system that perpetrated a shocking genocide.
Last week 751 unmarked graves were found near a former Residential School in Saskatchewan. This discovery adds to the 215 children in Kamloops, and more in Manitoba. In fact, in the last few months, the bodies of more than 1,300 First Nations children have been brought to light. I cannot help but think of the parents who were never able to kiss them good night, hug them when they were hurt, or even lay a flower on their graves. I cannot help but think about the children themselves, or the generations who would have followed but are now gone. But then, that was the plan, wasn’t it?
The government’s plan is reflected in the words of residential school system architect, Duncan Campbell Scott, “I want to get rid of the Indian problem.”
Canada, you need to learn the truth. Don’t ask us to tell you the story right now. We have told it too often and we are in too much pain as we grieve the recovery of our children. The day after the Lower Post Residential School is torn down, many in this country will plan for their usual celebrations of July 1st – Canada Day. As an individual, as a First Nations leader, as a human being, as a Canadian, I am in no mood to celebrate. I reflect on the powerful reflections shared by Chief Cadmus Delorme, about Canada Day. I too ask that whatever you find yourself doing on July 1st this year, make the time to read the Truth and Reconciliation 94 Calls to Action, and the MMIWG2S+ Calls to Justice. Understand why we are in mourning. I do ask all Canadians to respect this mourning, to take pause, and reflect on these ongoing national tragedies.
I am also tired of explaining why we can’t just “get over it,” and I am tired of reports and promises made, with little action. On July 1st, I will be wearing my orange shirt and joining a sacred fire. I will be walking gently as a collective.
So Canada, I hope you are finally getting a sense of how profoundly we have been impacted by the government and members of the churches who tried so hard to eliminate Indigenous people; First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
We need you all to act.
On July 1st, I will think of my Grandmother, and hold my family close, and honour these children. But I ask Canada – and all Canadians – become informed, read the TRC report, and learn about our true shared history.
Now I ask: how are you showing up?
How to Support? Donate to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, to the Legacy of Hope Foundation, or to the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. Here in the Yukon, CAIRS is a good way to start, as well as the Northern Nations Alliance, who are supporting the walkers arriving at the Kamloops Residential School on August 9th, 2021. ask all Canadians to respect this mourning, to take pause, and reflect on these ongoing National tragedies.