As the discovery of mass multiple burial sites and unmarked graves brings back the pain of centuries of torture, and genocide for the indigenous population in Canada, the Canadian society, in general, is facing a time of reckoning, of confronting old wounds and dealing with new fears.
The findings of the remains of over 1000 people, mostly indigenous children, buried in unmarked graves at sites of former residential schools that were run by the Church and funded by the Canadian government, has highlighted the deep injustice that the First Nation indigenous Canadians have faced in the hands of Christian priests in the past.
In the last few weeks, 3 major burial sites have been discovered in different parts of Canada. On June 30, the remains of 182 people were found in mass graves close to former St. Eugene’s Mission School in Cranbrook. Two mass graves had been found earlier, one with 215 graves in Kamloops was found on May 27, 2021, and 751 graves in Saskatchewan were found on June 24.
As pain and grief spread through the Canadian indigenous population, there have been incidents of Church burnings. In recent weeks, at least nine Churches, both Catholic and Anglican, have been burned down in Canada.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justine Trudeau has been expressing his apologies and anguish at each discovery of old burial sites near places where the infamous residential schools functioned. The Catholic Church officials have apologised too, some voices even asking the Pope in Vatican to come to Canada and formally apologise to the First Nation people.
However, among the White supremacist Christian population, there are many who do not believe they need to be sorry for those countless children who perished under torture, lack of care, hard labour and physical, emotional, and psychological harassment meted out to them at the residential schools. Instead, they believe that the First Nation people would be “grateful” that those children at least died as “Christians” because their “souls have been saved”.
No, it is not a joke. The American Conservative magazine, in an elaborate and sanctimonious article proudly asserts so.
The article in American Conservative, published on July 8, titled “The Meaning of The Native Graves”, actually says the residential schools were dong ‘God’s work’. The article actually starts with paragraphs from The Bible, listing out lines where Jesus had apparently commanded to convert pagans and ‘save their souls’.
It then describes the ‘noble’ mission and deeds of French Jesuit Jean de Brebeuf, who had dared to venture into an “untamed” continent because he had to carry out a grave mission, “to bring the Christian Gospels to the natives”.
The article then narrates how a “caring and noble’ Jean de Brebeuf had preached the Gospels to the natives for 13 years, successfully baptizing dozens of natives, before the Church was attacked by another band of natives and the priests were killed.
The article then declares the discovery of the mass burial sites and unmarked graves for those unnamed children from residential schools is “a made-up story”. It says that ‘many children died in residential schools because child mortality was quite high anyway in those days. Not just that, completely ignoring the fact that those children were forcibly taken away from their families and forced to stay in those residential schools, the article then blames the low funding by the government that caused substandard conditions in residential schools.
It then argues that the sites “almost certainly” include graves of Christian adults from neighbouring communities. Calling the mass graves as nothing but ‘public hysteria’, it adds that they are burial sites of people we always knew were dead and those sites are actually ‘cemeteries’.
“People die, and when they die, you bury them in the ground”, is the articles argument about the graves.
It is not clear how that addresses the fact that those native children who perished in Canada’s Christian residential schools DID NOT deserve to be taken away from their families and the native population did not ask for their “souls to be saved”.
Further, the article goes on to defend the residential school system altogether. It actually asserts that ‘it was necessary to convert native people into Christianity because otherwise, “their souls could not have been saved” and the so-called “saving of the souls”, by converting the natives by any means, was the first and foremost duty of the Church and the government. Everything else was apparently secondary.
Finally, the article, before finishing off with another few paras from the Bible, proudly proclaims that whatever suffering and pain the native population had to suffer, was indeed nothing compared to the infinite grace and blessings they have received by converting to Christianity.
No, not kidding, the article actually seems to say that the natives must be grateful that they were looted, massacred, had their homes burnt, their lifestyle, faith and culture trampled upon and their children taken away to be ‘cleansed’ of the native culture and language, and killed, because, in return, they received the Christian Gospels.
“Whatever sacrifices were exacted in pursuit of that grace—the suffocation of a noble pagan culture; an increase in disease and bodily death due to government negligence; even the sundering of natural families—is worth it“
It is astounding indeed, the callousness, the blatant indifference with which the countless lives lost and the irreparable loss of the native language, and culture, is being defended, even hailed because apparently, it was more important to be a dead Christian than to be alive as a ‘pagan’.
The infamous residential schools of Canada
For uninitiated readers, the residential schools were government-funded and were operated by the Catholic church to “educate” and assimilate indigenous children in a ‘white, Christian society’. Children were separated from their families and were punished for speaking their native language and anything related to native culture and traditions were systematically wiped out.
As many as 150,000 children were taken away from their families to be “educated” in those residential schools that ran well up to the latter half of the 20th century.
In the 1920s, attending these schools was made mandatory by law for indigenous children. If refused, the parents would face prison. The students would live in the school premises from September to June and were allowed to meet family members only on Christmas and Easter.
The aim of these residential schools was to “clean” out the native culture, language and heritage of the children. Their main objective was to make the children denounce their ways of life and make them more ‘suitable’ for a white, Christian society. This objective was achieved by forcibly keeping the children away from their families, mental, physical and emotional torture and a complete ban on native language and lifestyle within the school premises. The children were often given minimal education and were forced to do hard agricultural labour.
In 2008, the government of Canada had formally apologised to First Nation people for running the residential schools.