On May 27, 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, BC found the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Since then, more than 1308 unmarked graves have been uncovered across the country with more being uncovered as the months go by.
Can you imagine what 1308 graves look like? Can you imagine how many Indigenous families and communities across Canada are affected by this devastating discovery?
Back when I attended Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB, our student population (grades 9 to 12) totaled 1345 students. So, when I read about the 1308 graves that had been uncovered so far, it wasn’t a statistic. I thought of all the students in my high school: my closest friends and classmates, the people I sat with on the bus and the ones I passed in the hallways every day for four years. What if all the people at my school died because of malnutrition, neglect, abuse of all kinds, and were buried in unmarked graves? What would it be like for our families – those who lost one child or a few? How would it feel to be denied accountability and justice for decades? How would that kind of loss shape our wider community?
For Indigenous people and communities, these aren’t hypothetical questions and this isn’t a shocking discovery. Their accounts of racism and abuse at residential schools have fallen on deaf ears for years. For Indigenous people and communities, these aren’t 1308 forgotten individuals. These are children who never made it back home.
As a non-Indigenous person living in Canada, I’m committed to learning about the residential school system and its legacy of intergenerational trauma even when it’s no longer headline news. I’m committed to listening to Indigenous activists and leaders especially when they criticize settlers and Christians, and call on us to take action and responsibility for historical and ongoing racism and white supremacy culture. I’m committed to not judging or policing how Indigenous people express their grief over what is truly cultural genocide. Finally, I’m committed to imagining a world where God’s justice flows and every child matters.
God of justice,
Help us walk, protest, cry, and pray with our Indigenous siblings in their trauma and grief.
Help us listen to Indigenous people and then, when we think we understand, help us to listen some more.
Help us be the church we say we are. Help us be more loving. Amen.
Awit Marcelino is a second-generation Filipino-Canadian and the pastor of Sugarbush Christian Church, an open and affirming congregation in Guelph, ON (and on Zoom). She is also the outgoing Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Canada appointee on the WICC Board of Directors.