People outside of Canada may not be aware that September 30 was a national day of truth and reconciliation.
The day has recently been introduced by the federal government to highlight the legacy of the residential school program and invite people to reflect on the lasting trauma inflicted on the Indigenous people of Canada.
As a recent (nineteen years ago) settler in BC, I was oblivious both to the residential school program and to the wider systemic injustices faced by Indigenous people. Yes, I had a rough knowledge of the history of Canada, told from a European perspective, but that all felt like old history, something that happened way before my great-grandparents’ times and all water under the bridge.
When a children’s mass grave was uncovered on a residential school site in Kamloops in 2021, the news shocked the country. Yes, other sites had sporadically been discovered in previous decades, but the scale here was new and was followed in a matter of months by many more such graves.
The scale of the horror became apparent. This was not a few isolated incidents. This was the needless deaths of literally thousands of kids, whisked away from their families to die of disease, abuse, and malnutrition at the hands of people who saw themselves as “better”.
Along with this came the realization that this is not ancient history. This is recent. The last school closed in 1997. That is not even my generation, this directly affects the generation that came after me. I have work colleagues who went to residential schools themselves, or whose parents and grandparents were separated from their families. The trauma has been buried, not discussed even in private, locked away too painful to think about. People at work are only now starting to tell their stories.
However, I was prompted to write this post after I read this weekend about the rise of denialism. People out there claiming it’s all a conspiracy, a hoax.
This distresses and angers me. There’s a rising tide of denialism poisoning our society. Denying the existence of extermination camps in WW2, the brutal reality of slavery in the US, the slaughter of children in mass school shootings. People who directly experienced events are bullied and hounded as kooks, liars, fakes. Social media has given a strident platform to people with their own agenda to pursue regardless of facts. Evidence becomes irrelevant, truth an inconvenience.
People need to own the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable and challenges their view of how the world should be.
I stand by the survivors of the residential school program, and I respect the courage it takes, in today’s hostile world, to finally stand up and tell their stories.