• The Low Down

Remembering the little ones

The Low Down invited this guest editorial written by Steve Bonspiel, publisher of the Kahnawake, QC newspaper The Eastern Door. Trigger warning: Residential school content that can be tough to read.


What do you say, feel, or think when you find out that 215 unmarked, illegal graves of children as young as three were discovered?


Burial plots no one wanted anyone to find because most were not reported. Some were surely murdered.


As an Indigenous journalist, you try to cry, but it doesn’t always come out. You try to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense at all.


But no matter what you try to do, you have to report on it. You have to talk to residential school survivors. You have to dive deep into your box of journalistic skills to keep going — even when all you want to do is stop, eat, and get proper sleep.


The children found at Kamloops Residential School in BC aren’t an exception to the rule either. There are thousands more who died or were murdered by priests, nuns, and other clergy and staff.


Officially, 50 students died there. The actual number is at 215 graves and counting, and many more deceased are suspected. They just haven’t been found yet, thanks to Canada’s inaction. And they may never be uncovered.


For many, the abuse was too much and they tried to escape. For others, they were subjected to torture — the electric chair, medical experiments, and all types of physical, sexual, and mental abuse. Tuberculosis was common. After all, they lived like cattle. They were treated as guinea pigs: disposable, expendable, incorrigible.


So why did Canada and the churches continually get away with it? Why do they still get away with it? Why has no one been convicted for past abuses?


They preyed on our children, who later became our elders. If they were lucky enough to make it home, they were scarred for life, inside and out. The nuns and priests didn’t care if a kid went hungry at night or was shaking, scared in their bed because of very real dangers around them. They used those opportunities to abuse and discard when they’d had their fun.


As hard as this is to read, it is hard to write. It comes from a mix of anger and sadness; of remorse and pity for the kids, and of hatred towards the adult abusers. Some journalists have shifted from what happened to the children, to how do we help justice be served? Enough is enough, many are saying. And how do we do our part?


An investigation is needed, on a large scale – maybe a bunch of smaller ones in each province – and we need to gather as much evidence as possible, and work within our limitations.


But the truth is, residential schools never stopped. They are still going on today, with the underfunding of our children on all levels of education, health, and security; to the childcare and foster care systems, with disproportionate numbers of our own in foreign homes; to the government of Canada fighting us at every turn, for land, for money, for our own resources and future.


So when will the paternal abuse stop? When will we say, once and for all, enough is enough? Draw a line in the sand? We all know how abusers work. They will keep taking and ruining lives until they are caught or stopped. We know the time is now to stop them, to curtail the abuses, to raise awareness, and to change things, but what does that look like? What role will you play to fight alongside your Indigenous brothers and sisters instead of sitting there, complacent? Or worse, fighting your own for personal notoriety or gain?


This is just the tip of the iceberg, and it is time everyone deals with the skeletons in our closet so the future generations can hold their heads up high and say we tried like hell to make their lives better, and we fought just as hard for justice for our little heroes who never came home.