by Samantha Helgeson

In the last few weeks, there have been over 1,000 bodies found at former residential school sites. These are the remains of children, unmarked and unrecorded.

Over 1,000 bodies have been found at six burial sites. I refuse to use the term “mass grave site” because that implies that these remains had some record or tombstone or marking. It means they had funeral rites and were afforded the proper dignity and respect with burial that they deserved. And that never happened.

No, these are unmarked burial sites. These are unmarked dump sites that cover up decades upon decades of murder, abuse, and neglect. These are criminal, and they have been abandoned and forgotten for far too long.

These are six sites out of 139 in Canada. Six out of 139. And there are already over 1,000 bodies that have been uncovered.  

Out of 139 sites in Canada, the province with the most sites, 25 to be exact, was Alberta. And unlike other provinces that have started uncovering remains, Alberta has only begun excavating any of the sites.

How many more bodies are we going to find? How many more children remain lost?  How many more souls are still separated from their families?

This is a tragedy. A monstrosity of proportions too large to convey properly in words. It was a horrific systematic cultural genocide that the churches and the Canadian government wrought upon the Indigenous peoples. All across Canada, their culture and their identity were forcefully removed. Languages, culture, religion, and lives were stolen and stamped out.

This is what Canada was built on. The foundation of our country is built upon the blood and bones of kidnapped children.

There are multiple generations of people that now carry generational trauma. Generations of people were robbed of their culture, their identity, and their heritage. Generations of people are still impacted by the lasting effects of what the residential school system did to their families. The schools have shut down, but the people are still suffering.

There has been a strong outcry from people on social media for justice and for reparations from the Catholic Church. Let us not forget that the blame is not solely on the Catholic Church. Justice should be demanded from the Anglican Church, the Presbyterian Churches, the Methodist Church, and the United Church. They all ran these sites and took part in the murder, neglect, and abuse of children.

True justice would be putting those that are still alive on trial for their crimes against humanity. If we can put Nazis on trial for war crimes decades after the fact, then there should be no issue with putting priests and nuns on trial for the abuse and murder of children. Justice is owed to the dead.

Justice should also be demanded from the Canadian government, who created laws that tore children from their families. The Canadian government was complacent in the treatment of these thousands of children and later funded these sites, taking over administration.

The Canadian government has issued a formal apology, and there have been some payouts to survivors over the years. Yet, they are still fighting survivors in court. Reparations are needed for all the survivors and families that were affected by the residential school system. And even then, that will not be enough.

How about the federal government stops fighting the survivors in court? Give them their reparations. Do better than what they are asking for. Give them their money and give them proper support. Create better and more affordable access to mental health supports, counselling, and trauma therapy.

Another step would be the government excavating each of the 139 sites in Canada. Give families the closure that they need. Return their dead and let them bury them properly. Fund the funerals and foot the cost so that they can bring their ancestors home.

Enough is enough; the atrocities that were committed need to come to light fully. If we use the six sites uncovered as an indicator, then we know there are thousands of children still buried. They deserve to have their stories told, and they deserve to go home. 

Editor note: Previously in the article it was stated that Alberta has not begun to excavate any sites, but it has been noted that they have started in St. Albert, AB so the article has been modified.