Trigger warning: This post discusses the issue and troubling history of residential schools in Canada.
On the morning of Tuesday, June 20, an outdoor ceremony was held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Its purpose was to announce the building of a monument to the survivors and victims of residential schools in Canada.
In attendance at the ceremony were Prime Minister Trudeau, Governor General Mary Simon, and numerous elders and members of Indigenous communities from across the country, many of whom are themselves survivors of the schools.
In her speech at the event, Simon said that, "while reconciliation and healing has no end date, and it doesn't involve just one act or project, I would like you to remember every act is important. And this act is significant."
The monument will be built on the west side of Parliament Hill. This position is very much on purpose, as Simon said that it would be a "constant reminder" to lawmakers that what they do has "consequences" for others.
What were residential schools?
This was a government-run school system that existed from the late 1800s to the 1990s. Young Indigenous children were removed from their families against their wishes. They were forced to live at the schools, which were often many miles from their homes.
While there, these students could not speak their own language, wear their traditional clothing, or practice any aspect of their culture. These children suffered regular abuse at the hands of the people who ran the institutions and thousands died while at the schools. In 2021, major discoveries confirmed these deaths—ones that Indigenous communities had known about for generations.
What was the TRC?
Historical research has made it clear that the government's goal for these schools was to destroy Indigenous children's connection to their culture and heritage.
In 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed to properly investigate the history of the residential school system, as well as the terrible effect it had on Indigenous Peoples.
In 2015, the TRC finished its report, releasing the 94 Calls To Action. These are a series of recommendations on how to best address the legacy of residential schools. You can read more about the calls and their importance here and here.
Who is behind the project?
This new monument appears to have been made in response to Call To Action #82, which says:
We call upon provincial and territorial governments, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools Monument in each capital city to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.
It was decided upon by a committee led by survivors of residential schools that Ottawa appointed in April 2022. Many of these survivors were in attendance, and several also spoke at the ceremony. One of them, a Metis elder named Jimmy Dorucher, noted that "the truth is sometimes very, very difficult", but that it is a truth that all Canadians need to acknowledge. "I find it very difficult to imagine something like this could happen to us here in Canada. But it happened."
"But you want to know the positive thing?" he continued, to applause from the crowd. "We're still here."