Remembering the 215 Children Found in an Unmarked Mass Grave at Kamloops Indian Residential School

June 1, 2021 | Jamie

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Feathers and handprints on an orange background with the text EVERY CHILD MATTERS and 215
Graphic inspired by the concept of "Every Child Matters" from the Orange Shirt Society

On May 28, Canada and the world learned of the heartbreaking news of the 215 children buried in an unmarked mass grave at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

Toronto Public Library grieves this tragic loss alongside our friends and colleagues in Indigenous communities across Canada. We reaffirm the need for all Canadians to continue educating ourselves and to hold our governments and institutions, including TPL, accountable for our commitments to Reconciliation.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Final Reports were released in 2015. They include Calls to Action (numbers 71 to 76) about Missing Children and Burial Information that still need action.

This week, along with the City of Toronto, flags on TPL properties have been lowered to mourn the 215 children. Flags will remain lowered until June 7, 2021 - a total of 215 hours to represent each life. 

You're likely wondering what you can do in the wake of this devastating discovery. Here are some actions to consider: 

  • Wear orange this week to raise awareness and recognition of the 215 children whose lives were stolen, and for others who are still undiscovered.
  • Hold 2 minutes and 15 seconds of personal silent reflection at 2:15pm to honour the lives of the 215 children.
  • Contact your Member of Parliament to express support to implement all the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, including those on Missing Children and Burial Information.
  • Consider donating to organizations helping Indian Residential School survivors, such as the Indian Residential School Survivors Society or the Legacy of Hope Foundation.
  • If you are non-Indigenous, educate yourself and others about the Indian Residential School System. Below are some items in the TPL collection (and some outside of it) as a starting point for all ages.

Note: authors that are Indigenous will have their nation noted next to their name in brackets. All summaries are from the TPL website.

Titles for Children

I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer

I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis (Ojibway) and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

"A picture book based on a true story about a young First Nations girl who was sent to a residential school. When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from despite the efforts of the nuns to force her to do otherwise. Based on the life of Jenny Kay Dupuis' own grandmother, I Am Not a Number brings a terrible part of Canada's history to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to."

Phyllis's Orange Shirt by Phyllis Webstad

Phyllis’s Orange Shirt by Phyllis Webstad (Interior Salish, Secwepemc, and Stswecem’c Xgat’tem), illustrated by Brock Nicol

"Phyllis's Orange Shirt is an adaptation of The Orange Shirt Story which was the best selling children's book in Canada for several weeks in September 2018. This true story also inspired the movement of Orange Shirt Day which could become a federal statutory holiday. When Phyllis was a little girl she was excited to go to residential school for the first time. Her Granny bought her a bright orange shirt that she loved and she wore it to school for her first day. When she arrived at school her bright orange shirt was taken away. This is both Phyllis Webstad's true story and the story behind Orange Shirt Day which is a day for us all to reflect upon the treatment of First Nations people and the message that 'Every Child Matters'."

Fatty Legs: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Fatty Legs: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Inuvialuit), illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes

“Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools. At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls -- all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughingstock of the entire school. In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. Although a sympathetic nun stands up for Margaret, in the end it is this brave young girl who gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity. Complemented by archival photos from Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's collection and striking artworks from Liz Amini-Holmes, this inspiring first-person account of a plucky girl's determination to confront her tormentor will linger with young readers.”

A Stranger At Home: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

A Stranger At Home: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Inuvialuit), illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes

“Traveling to be reunited with her family in the arctic, 10-year-old Margaret Pokiak can hardly contain her excitement. It's been two years since her parents delivered her to the school run by the dark-cloaked nuns and brothers.

Coming ashore, Margaret spots her family, but her mother barely recognizes her, screaming, "Not my girl." Margaret realizes she is now marked as an outsider.

And Margaret is an outsider: she has forgotten the language and stories of her people, and she can't even stomach the food her mother prepares.

However, Margaret gradually relearns her language and her family's way of living. Along the way, she discovers how important it is to remain true to the ways of her people--and to herself.

Highlighted by archival photos and striking artwork, this first-person account of a young girl's struggle to find her place will inspire young readers to ask what it means to belong.”

 

Titles for Teens

They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School by Bev Sellars

They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School by Bev Sellars (Interior Salish, Secwepemc, Xat’sull)

"In this frank and poignant memoir of her years at St. Joseph's Mission, Sellars breaks her silence about the residential school's lasting effects on her and her family – from substance abuse to suicide attempts – and eloquently articulates her own path to healing. Number One comes at a time of recognition – by governments and society at large – that only through knowing the truth about these past injustices can we begin to redress them."

The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty

The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty (Cree)

"This memoir offers a courageous and intimate chronicle of life in a residential school.

Now a retired fisherman and trapper, the author was one of an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children who were taken from their families and sent to government-funded, church-run schools, where they were subjected to a policy of "aggressive assimilation."

As Augie Merasty recounts, these schools did more than attempt to mold children in the ways of white society. They were taught to be ashamed of their native heritage and, as he experienced, often suffered physical and sexual abuse.

But, even as he looks back on this painful part of his childhood, Merasty's sense of humour and warm voice shine through."

Orange Shirt Day: September 30th by Orange Shirt Society

Orange Shirt Day: September 30th by the Orange Shirt Society

"Readers of Orange Shirt Day will embark on a sacred journey to deepen their understanding of Orange Shirt Day, the Orange Shirt Society and residential school reconciliation. This book provides the necessary resources and sparks a passion for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals to make a difference moving forward. For Phyllis Webstad, as well as other survivors and their families, the orange shirt has become a symbol of healing and of hope for the future."

Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith

Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith (Sioux, Lakota, and Cree) 

"This nonfiction book examines how we can foster reconciliation with Indigenous people at individual, family, community and national levels."  

Residential Schools: The Devastating Impact on Canada's Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Findings and Calls for Action by Melanie Florence

Residential Schools: The Devastating Impact on Canada’s Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Findings and Calls for Action by Melanie Florence (Cree)

"Through historical photographs, documents, and first-person narratives from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people who survived residential schools, this book offers an account of the injustice of this period in Canadian history. It documents how this official racism was confronted and finally acknowledged."

Back to the Red Road: A Story on Survival  Redemption and Love by Florence Kaefer and Edward Gamblin

Back to the Red Road: A Story on Survival, Redemption and Love by Florence Kaefer and Edward Gamblin (Cree)

This is the story of a teacher and a student at an Indian Residential School. "The story of their personal reconciliation is both heartfelt and heartbreaking as Edward begins to share his painful truths with his family, Florence, and the media. Three years after Edward's death in 2010, Florence has continued to advocate for truth and reconciliation. Back To The Red Road is more than one man's story: it is the story of our nation and how healing can begin, one friendship, one apology at a time."

 

Titles for Adults

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good (Plains Cree) 

"Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie are barely out of childhood when they are finally released after years of detention. Alone and without any skills, support or families, the teens find their way to the seedy and foreign world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, where they cling together, striving to find a place of safety and belonging in a world that doesn't want them. The paths of the five friends cross and crisscross over the decades as they struggle to overcome, or at least forget, the trauma they endured during their years at the Mission. Fueled by rage and furious with God, Clara finds her way into the dangerous, highly charged world of the American Indian Movement. Maisie internalizes her pain and continually places herself in dangerous situations. Famous for his daring escapes from the school, Kenny can't stop running and moves restlessly from job to job -- through fishing grounds, orchards and logging camps -- trying to outrun his memories and his addiction. Lucy finds peace in motherhood and nurtures a secret compulsive disorder as she waits for Kenny to return to the life they once hoped to share together. After almost beating one of his tormentors to death, Howie serves time in prison, then tries once again to re-enter society and begin life anew. With compassion and insight, Five Little Indians chronicles the desperate quest of these residential school survivors to come to terms with their past and, ultimately, find a way forward. "

My Decade at Old Sun   My Lifetime of Hell by Arthur Bear Chief

My Decade at Old Sun, My Lifetime of Hell by Arthur Bear Chief (Siksiká)

"Arthur Bear Chief depicts the punishment, cruelty, abuse, and injustice that he endured at Old Sun Residential School and then later relived in the traumatic process of retelling his story at an examination for discovery in connection with a lawsuit brought against the federal government. Late in life, he returned to Gleichen, Alberta on the Siksika nation – to the home left to him by his mother – and it was there that he began to reconnect with Blackfoot language and culture."

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age by Darrel J McLeod

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age by Darrel J. McLeod (Cree) 

"A powerful story of resilience-a must-read for all Canadians. Growing up in the tiny village of Smith, Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod was surrounded by his Cree family's history. In shifting and unpredictable stories, his mother, Bertha, shared narratives of their culture, their family and the cruelty that she and her sisters endured in residential school. Darrel was comforted by her presence and that of his many siblings and cousins, the smells of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, and his deep love of the landscape. Bertha taught him to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that would return to watch over and guide him at key junctures of his life.”

Calling Down the Sky by Rosanna Deerchild

Calling Down the Sky by Rosanna Deerchild (Cree)

 ""Calling Down the Sky" is a poetry collection that describes deep personal experiences and post generational effects of the Canadian Aboriginal Residential School confinements in the 1950's when thousands of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools against their parents' wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. The author portrays how the ongoing impact of the residential schools problem has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist today."

Picking up the Pieces: Residential School Memories and the Making of the Witness Blanket by Carey Newman

Picking Up the Pieces: Residential School Memories and the Making of the Witness Blanket by Carey Newman (Kwakwaka’wakw) and Kirstie Hudson

"This nonfiction book, illustrated with photographs, tells the story of the making of the Witness Blanket, a work by Indigenous artist Carey Newman that includes hundreds of items from every Residential School in Canada and stories from the Survivors who donated them."

Pathways of Reconciliation: Indigenous and Settler Approaches to Implementing the TRC's Calls to Action by Aimée Craft and Paulette Regan

Pathways of Reconciliation: Indigenous and Settler Approaches to Implementing the TRC’s Calls to Action by Aimée Craft (Anishinaabe-Métis) and Paulette Regan

"The essays in Pathways of Reconciliation address the themes of reframing, learning and healing, researching, and living. They engage with different approaches to reconciliation (within a variety of reconciliation frameworks, either explicit or implicit) and illustrate the complexities of the reconciliation process itself. They canvass multiple and varied pathways of reconciliation, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives, reflecting a diversity of approaches to the mandate given to all Canadians by the TRC with its Calls to Action."

The Sleeping Giant Awakens: Genocide  Indian Residential Schools  and the Challenge of Conciliation by David B. Macdonald

The Sleeping Giant Awakens: Genocide, Indian Residential Schools, and the Challenge of Conciliation by David B. Macdonald 

"In this book, David B. MacDonald uses genocide as an analytical tool to better understand Canada’s past and present relationships between settlers and Indigenous peoples. [...] The Sleeping Giant Awakens offers a unique and timely perspective on the prospects for conciliation after genocide, exploring how moving forward together is difficult in a context where many settlers know little of the residential schools and the ongoing legacies of colonization, and need to have a better conception of Indigenous rights."

 

Reports

They Came for the Children: Canada, Aboriginal Peoples, and Residential Schools (PDF) by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Volume 1. Summary: Honouring the Truth  Reconciling for the Future by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Volume 1: Summary: Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"This is the Final Report of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its six-year investigation of the residential school system for Aboriginal youth and the legacy of these schools. This report, the summary volume, includes the history of residential schools, the legacy of that school system, and the full text of the Commission's 94 recommendations for action to address that legacy."

A copy of this report is also available to read online for free (PDF)

Canada's Residential Schools. The History  Part 1: Origins to 1939 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Canada’s Residential Schools. The History, Part 1: Origins to 1939 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

 "Canada's Residential Schools: The History, Part 1, Origins to 1939 places Canada's residential school system in the historical context of European campaigns to colonize and convert Indigenous people throughout the world."

Canada's Residential Schools. The History  Part 2: 1939 to 2000 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Canada’s Residential Schools. The History, Part 2: 1939 to 2000 by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"Canada's Residential Schools: The History, Part 2, 1939 to 2000 carries the story of the residential school system from the end of the Great Depression to the closing of the last remaining schools in the late 1990s."

Canada's Residential Schools. Missing Children and Unmarked Burials by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Canada’s Residential Schools. Missing and Unmarked Burials by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada 

"Canada's Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials is the first systematic effort to record and analyze deaths at the schools, and the presence and condition of student cemeteries, within the regulatory context in which the schools were intended to operate. As part of its work the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada established a National Residential School Student Death Register. Due to gaps in the available data, the register is far from complete. Although the actual number of deaths is believed to be far higher, 3,200 residential school victims have been identified. The analysis also demonstrates that residential school death rates were significantly higher than those for the general Canadian school-aged population."

A Knock On The Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

"A Knock on the Door, published in collaboration with the National Research Centre for Truth & Reconciliation, gathers material from the several reports the TRC has produced to present the essential history and legacy of residential schools in a concise and accessible package that includes new materials to help inform and contextualize the journey to reconciliation that Canadians are now embarked upon."

 

Documentaries

Muffins for Granny, directed by Nadia McLaren (Ojibway)

"[Indigenous] elders Roy Thomas, Garnet Agneconeb, Ralph Johnson, Alice Littledeer, Eulalia Michano and Delaney Sharpe recount their experiences in residential schools."

We Were Children

We Were Children, directed by Tim Wolochatiuk 

"As young children, Lyna and Glen were taken from their homes and placed in church-run boarding schools. The trauma of this experience was made worse by years of untold physical, sexual and emotional abuse, the effects of which persist in their adult lives. In this emotional film, the profound impact of the Canadian government's residential school system is conveyed unflinchingly through the eyes of two children who were forced to face hardships beyond their years. We Were Children gives voice to a national tragedy and demonstrates the incredible resilience of the human spirit."

 

Blogs

Orange Shirt Day

A blog post talking about Orange Shirt Day, how it began, and sharing books about experiences of Indian Residential Schools survivors. This post also shares the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Truth and Reconciliation: 5 Years Later

A blog post talking about what has been written about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission since its release on December 15, 2015. This post also shares the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

It Happened Here: KAIROS Blanket Exercise

A blog post sharing the experience of a teenager taking part in a KAIROS Blanket Exercise in 2019.

 

Online Learning

Indigenous Canada Massive Open Online Course 

A free, massive open online course offered by the University of Alberta that offers a 101 on Indigenous experiences in Canada. Please note that if you would like to receive a certificate of completion, a fee from Coursera may apply.

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