A Holocaust for First Nations: the Number of Missing Children

Published On Thursday Jun 16 2011
Number of missing children shocks reconciliation chair, June 11

Hundreds of First Nations children who disappeared after being taken from their homes to attend residential schools from 1870 to the mid-1900s is a “big surprise for me,” said Murray Sinclair, the Manitoba judge who is chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“That such large numbers of children died at the schools. That the information of their deaths was not communicated back to their families.”

Manitoba has a very large population of indigenous people. Isn’t it odd that Manitoba’s first aboriginal judge, appointed to Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench in January 2001, would have no idea of the death toll, and didn’t or couldn’t make the leap to a correlation between violent, hate-based crimes on such a huge scale and death? For 30 years, Judge Sinclair’s main legal interests were civil, criminal and aboriginal law.

Your article says that the number of deaths is in the hundreds, when estimates have been as high as 60 per cent of the 150,000 children who were kidnapped and savaged. In 1909, Dr. Peter Bryce, general medical superintendent for Indian Affairs reported to the ministry that between 1894-1908, the mortality rate in western Canadian residential schools was between 35 per cent and 60 per cent.

The statistic, which became public in 1922, means that between 52,500 and 90,000 children are unaccounted for. Do we all really naively believe they died of natural causes? Mass graves have already been discovered. It is our holocaust. We want to bring the bones of our ancestors home.

The good judge had a breakfast meeting with power brokers from universities, the media, business and banking at the National Club. He said it’s important for the story of the schools to spread from our educational system to the corridors of corporate power.

You think we haven’t tried and tried? Who really wants to hear that our country and churches are responsible for so many innocent deaths? Good luck with that, Judge Sinclair.

Perhaps what might have been more compelling was to have some residential school survivors tell their story of humiliation, physical trauma and starvation over eggs benedict at the National Club. However, it probably would have required a set of squirm-proof chairs.

Shannon Thunderbird
First Nations Elder, Educator
Toronto

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters/article/1010290–a-holocaust-for-first-nations#.TfwdG3Q0Myc

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