Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner June 10, 2021
The country is reeling right now with new awareness of Canada’s original sin: the subjugation of the original inhabitants in the late 15th century, in what is called “contact,” and then the continuing racist oppression well into the 20 century, with 150 residential schools across Canada, for up to 150,000 Indigenous children.
It was federal policy, expressed by leaders, that the children needed to be retrained, taken from their parents and Europeanized. The agents of the policy were the organized religions of Canada: Anglican, Presbyterian, United Church, and for 60 percent of the children, Roman Catholic, both French and English.
Isn’t it strange, even exhilarating, when a culture wakes to truth and indignation after a long hibernation? It is now six years after the Truth and Reconciliation report of 2015. That work, chaired by Justice Murray Sinclair, contained 94 calls to Canada for change. It didn’t attract massive support then, had partial adoption in some sectors, but not in our society as a whole.
That is about to change. Led, unsurprisingly, by the children.
This week there was the shocking revelation that, after 20 years of painstaking work and the use of new radar-detecting technology, 215 bodies of children had been found buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops residential school in B.C.
The anguish and renewed trauma from this news of dead children, has been the trigger for widespread attention and condemnation from Canadians previously uninvolved.
There have been vigils at city halls and church steps in every province. I attended Peterborough’s on the evening of June 4 on the steps and the street in front of St Peter’s Cathedral. It was deeply quiet. Led by young Indigenous leaders, it featured drumming and jingle dancing, very few speeches and the reading out of 50 names by individual member of the crowd, coming up to the microphone spontaneously.
MP Maryam Monsef read out a name and placed the cedar plank with the child’s name etched on it.
The gathering drew more than 200 people from all walks of life, all ages, many in orange, masked and distanced. On the steps were dozens of pairs of children’s shoes. Martha Comfort brought small, handmade moccasins made of buckskin. Flowers and tea lights were placed among the shoes.
For the future, we must get involved. Call to Action No. 58 reads: “We call on the Pope to issue an apology to survivors, their families and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology to Irish victim of abuse, and to occur within one year of this report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”
The prime minister himself called on us to put pressure on Catholic bishops. The pope won’t come unless the bishops are in agreement. Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto did not distinguish himself Sunday while speaking with the CBC about missing records and individual dioceses bearing the responsibility.