Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (Aki-Kwe) is the director of the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre and a professor of law at the Peter A. Allard School of Law, at the University of British Columbia.
Many Canadians have expressed their horror, shock and sadness at the announcement that the unmarked buried remains of 215 children were discovered in preliminary radar findings last weekend at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
And we should be sad; it is horrific. But it is not shocking. In fact, it is the opposite – a too-common unearthing of the legacy, and enduring reality, of colonialism in Canada. To the degree it is shocking, it is evidence of how much learning there is still to do.
Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir, the chief of Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation, said it best: She called the discovery of the mass grave an “unthinkable loss.” But as she importantly made clear, it was also a known loss – that is, the deaths were undocumented, but the community “had knowledge” of them.
Unthinkable, undocumented, and yet known. This is the reality faced by Indigenous communities across this country.
First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, reflecting the ways in which knowledge is shared and passed on between generations, all have stories of the wrongs that were perpetrated through colonization.