Int’l Inuit org voices solidarity with Indigenous Canadians after remains of 215 children found at former residential school

Judy Sackaney and her grandson Creedence, 10, stand in front of an honour staff with tobacco ties at the Centennial Flame in Ottawa on June 5, 2021, after participating in a Pipe Ceremony. The event was to honour the 215 children whose remains were found at the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School at Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in the city of Kamloops in western Canada. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) voiced solidarity with Indigenous Canadians last week after the remains of 215 children were found on the site of a former residential school in western Canada. 

The site of the remains was made public on May 27 by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in the province of British Columbia after ground penetrating radar confirmed the finds. The survey was done on the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

“Our hearts go out to the members of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation who are undoubtedly retraumatized by this discovery,” said Dalee Sambo Dorough, the international chair of ICC, an organization that represents the approximately 180,000 Inuit in Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka, Russia.

“Please know that Inuit stand united behind  your struggle to uncover the truth about what happened,” she said in a news release send out on Friday.

We lend our support in calling on the Government of  Canada to fund the discovery of missing children at other former residential school sites across Canada so that  justice, and closure, can happen for the Indigenous Community.”

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School is seen in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The history of residential schools in Canada dates back to the 1800s.

Inuit and First Nations children were sent to the federally funded, primarily church-run schools, far from their communities and their cultures, and often against the wishes of their families.

The goal was to assimilate the children into European culture. Physical and sexual abuse was rampant in many of the institutions, and many students were beaten for speaking their Indigenous languages. Many of the social problems in Indigenous Canadian communities have been traced back to the trauma suffered by children who passed through the schools.

“We are in complete solidarity and compassion with  the families and all Indigenous peoples in Canada regarding this horrible discovery,” said Hjalmar Dahl, the president of ICC Greenland.  “I understand there are  hundreds of former residential schools across Canada. I hope justice will prevail for the families, and the truth is revealed about how this happened.” 

“We were shocked to hear about this tragedy and our hearts are with our brothers and sisters in Canada,” said Jimmy Stotts, the president of ICC Alaska. 

“We stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples across the country and worldwide who have been horribly traumatized by colonialism,” said Monica Ell-Kanayuk, president of the Canadian branch of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. (Courtesy ICC-Canada)

Over 130 of the institutions were located across Canada and an estimated 150,000 Inuit, Métis and First Nations children passed through the residential school system, found the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body set up as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, a class action settlement set up to help former students. 

“This is a very dark chapter of our history in Canada which we are all dealing with,” said Monica Ell-Kanayuk, President of ICC Canada. 

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had specific recommendations relating to records of this nature. We are on a relentless path towards healing and reconciliation. This very tragic news will no doubt open old wounds from victims.” 

Government must assist identifying remains across country, says Indigenous leader

Last week, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the organization that represents First Nations in Canada, including in the North, called on the federal government to do more to identify remains across the country.

“The Government of Canada must respond to First Nations seeking assistance in finding our lost children and support our mourning First Nations communities,”  said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a June 1 news release.

“We deeply appreciate the support of so many concerned Canadians.  I demand that all governments commit to supporting First Nations seeking thorough investigations into former residential school sites and to take any, and all action available to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.”

“We lend our support in calling on the Government of Canada to fund the discovery of missing children at other former residential school sites across Canada so that justice, and closure, can happen for the Indigenous Community,” said Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) International Chair Dalee Sambo Dorough, pictured here at the 2018 ICC general assembly in Arctic Alaska. (Robert Mesher/Courtesy Dalee Sambo Derough)

In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, item 58 calls for the Pope to apologize to survivors, the way he did to victims of clerical abuse in Ireland in 2018. The revelations out of Kamloops in May have renewed calls for the Catholic church to apologize and release relevant records pertaining to the residential school system in Canada.

On Saturday, Pope Francis said in his address at St. Peter’s Square, that he was pained to hear about Kamloops discovery and called for the respect of Indigenous people’s cultures, but did not make a formal apology.

ICC said it was adding its voice to the call to implement the TRC’s call to action.

“We lend our support in calling for Pope Francis to apologize to the victims of residential schools in Canada, and to release Catholic Church documents that could reveal the identity of the children in the graves near the former residential school in Kamloops, as well as other residential schools across Canada,” Dorough said.

The last residential schools were closed in Canada in the 1990s.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: On 6th anniversary of Canadian commission into residential schools, Inuit org calls for action, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Sami Parliament in Finland agrees more time needed for Truth and Reconciliation Commission preparation, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Can cross-border cooperation help decolonize Sami-language education, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sami in Sweden start work on structure of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying an culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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