It would be nice to say that this began with the 215 dead kids found on the site of a Kamloops residential school, followed shortly thereafter by the 751 unmarked graves found in the grounds of the Cowessess residential school (unmarked likely due to being bulldozed by a spiteful priest), and then 182 more unmarked graves in the Kootenays. There will be more. While not all of the unmarked graves are children, dead Indigenous children have been a thing for a long time. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008 estimated about 4,100 children died in residential schools. Survivors and those who listen to them have known about the tragedies associated with residential schools since this shit was going on. Dead children in residential schools is not a surprise. These were schools that needed on-site graveyards to accommodate all the bodies that were piling up. It’s not a great look.

Colonization is way easier when you strip people of their connection to their land, culture, and people! Or their lives, I guess, for those who didn’t quite make it.

David Hume is famous for his philosophical guillotine that posits that what objectively is cannot prescribe what one ought to do – there exists an impenetrable barrier between reality and our moral compass. We look at the world and see thousands of kids that died under the direction of the state and at the hands of the church. What we do about it is unclear. The best example I can give on the is/ought divide is the coverage of this news from Breitbart which released a fairly uncontroversial article about the 215 children found in Kamloops. Where it gets fun is the comment section where there are only two replies:

“So they were democrat owner slaves like in the south here in America.”

Tip of the iceberg. Demonic, satan-worshiping people did that to innocent children. They must have really enjoyed what they did.

Bet you didn’t think this blog would be about QAnon when you clicked into it, did you?

Anyone who looks at the systemically-induced deaths of thousands of children is going to have an opinion on it. If your worldview doesn’t include an acknowledgement of the southern strategy or you believe that there is a global cabal of satan-worshipping child sex traffickers secretly trying to undermine Donald Trump, your opinion on these dead children will be shaped by that worldview. You might advocate for the American annexation of seemingly progressive Canada because progressivism is the real slavery, or perhaps you might champion Donald Trump becoming the God King of Earth because clearly the Satan worshippers are spread out across the globe. There is a fallacious belief on the left that once people catch a glimpse of the reality that oppressed groups endure, they will automatically adopt progressive idealism because how could they be so blind otherwise? It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of empathy. There is no greater reality-check than headlines screaming about the bodies of children as young as three years old being callously dumped into the ground and left to rot, and I’m not hearing Ezra Levant calling for a socialist utopia.

Are you telling me that individual context shapes our relationship and feelings toward the world? God dammit, we were so close! Ugh, I guess I’ll try making a compelling argument…

There are already some proposals for how to react to this news. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole is fuming about how the left wants to ‘cancel’ Canada Day like employees will somehow have to give up their stat holiday pay or something. He is the only Canadian leader who actually loves Canada after all, and anyone who wants to reflect on the very present atrocities systemically perpetrated by Canada on this day is just siding with the terrorists. The thing is, there is no individual person to point to on this; responsibility lies symbolically in the entity of Canada itself. Celebrating ‘Canada’ while we’re still sifting through the bones of dead children killed by over a century and a half of Canadiana seems a little uncouth.

Personally, I don’t think wearing an orange shirt and teetotaling for a day, regardless of how symbolic that day might be, is going to accomplish much. It sets the limit on how much time we’re going to spend on these dead children to July 2nd. Certainly some Indigenous communities are calling for restraint as a means to pay respect to the present moment, and I can appreciate not wanting to mourn while people are next door loudly celebrating the colonial death of your cousin and aunty. I see this as an easy ‘thoughts and prayers’ moment for Canada that we’re somehow still bungling despite its very superficial and simple implementation. It’s nice to have, but it’s not a solution to the actual problem. This really didn’t need to become part of the culture war, but it has and that focus concerns me because now we’re talking about a culture war instead of what we actually do about thousands of dead children.

Solid rhyme, though!

The next proposal that is also gaining some traction is to follow the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC didn’t rely on people’s empathic progressivism to solve the problem; they actually put forward some guidelines on how to address it. The news has tended to focus on Calls to Action 71 through 76 because those are the ones that focus on the missing and dead children covered up by the residential school system, and boy howdy are governments going to town on that one! The federal Liberals are promising $27 million; Alberta is pledging $8 million; Saskatchewan is at $2 million; Ontario, $10 million; BC, $12 million. It’s not a contest. Don’t get excited.

The thing is, the laser focus on actions 71 through 76 ignores the 88 other Calls to Action that exist on that list. It’s important to note that these children weren’t killed in Holocaust-style gas chambers, despite residential schools being part of Canada’s “final solution” to the “Indian problem.” “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man” seems like a philosophy that doesn’t particularly care whether the man dies in the process, but its goal is still not mass murder. These children died of neglect, loneliness, unequal health conditions, and obviously the physical and sexual abuse didn’t help. However, it’s crucial to recognize that it wasn’t systematic murder. If we appreciate that fact, then we can see that the conditions that led to all these dead kids are still ongoing. There are still brutally unequal health outcomes; there is still inequality in services; there is still marginalization; there is still explicit and implicit forces pushing to disconnect Indigenous people from their land and culture. Canada as a system is still killing Indigenous people, including Indigenous children, and because it’s not overtly a mass murder with bodies hanging from the steeples, we don’t seem to care. We are impacted by this current news because it has the feel of a mass murder due to the vast number of bodies being found. People are having to go on the record to explain that these are not mass graves, but simply unmarked ones, because that is the feeling people are getting from these revelations. The reality may not be as sexy as people want it to be, but we still have to deal with it. That’s why it’s important to focus on more than just the Calls to Action that address where the bodies are buried.

“The Israeli court psychiatrist who examined Eichmann found him a “completely normal man, more normal, at any rate, than I am after examining him,” the implication being that the coexistence of normality and bottomless cruelty explodes our ordinary conceptions and present the true enigma of the trial.” Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

The 94 Calls to Action begin by looking at the legacy of residential schools. They expose the child welfare system as still perpetuating colonialism and requiring significant adjustments. They demand better educational and employment opportunities for Indigenous people. They demand the promotion of Indigenous languages that were stolen from them. They demand an acknowledgement that the health disparities existing in Indigenous communities resulted from Canadian policies, and then obviously demand steps to address them. They call for reevaluating the relationship of police and the justice system toward Indigenous communities and populations. The impacts on health, education, employment, and the detriments imposed by ongoing discrimination within the justice system are all held to be a part of the legacy of residential schools and other colonial policies.

The second half seeks to address how reconciliation could be possible, given the, you know, genocide. They call on the government to work together with Indigenous communities to figure out a game plan. They call for recognition of Indigenous title rights. They want a national council of reconciliation. They call for the training and education of public servants on the history of Canadian colonialism. They want an apology from the churches responsible, especially the Pope. They want this shit to be taught in schools in an effective way. They want youth programs and museums, a national centre for Truth and Reconciliation, commemoration of Indigenous sites, and acknowledgement of Indigenous athletes. They demand media support from government-funded media to provide Indigenous programming. They call on the corporate sector to follow these similar principles. They want Canada’s real history to be a part of the welcoming of immigrants into this nation.

This is what the Erin O’Toole’s of the world don’t seem to get: nobody is cancelling Canada. They want Canada to be more honest and to work toward addressing and moving past the historical injustices of colonialism. Maybe that means that you can’t blindly celebrate the Canadian heroes of the past with statues and universities, but like, if you murdered somebody, and all you had to do to move on from that was to get rid of some statues, that’s a pretty damned good deal! The demands of reconciliation are things that no individual would receive in any Canadian court of law if they committed these crimes in any other context. I did not list out all 94 Calls to Action. Go and read my hyperlink there. Criminal negligence resulting in death can get you up to life sentence in Canada. Kidnapping a child is also a life sentence. See if there is anything resembling that in the Calls to Action.

When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal!

Given my use of Hume’s relativism, I feel I should justify why following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action is any better than putting Trump in a position of global leadership. It comes down to sovereignty. Indigenous people aren’t calling for Donald Trump to fly in on a golden chariot to save them. Saying “We know what’s best for Indigenous people!” is what got us trying to kill the Indian within them to begin with. What are Indigenous people asking for?

Canada has been disproportionately underfunding child welfare services in Indigenous jurisdictions despite being told repeatedly by the Human Rights Council that they should probably fund all services equally. Indigenous people are in court trying to fix that – as good a place to start as any. Indigenous people would like to be able to lobster fish through the year because they’ve been doing that for millennia, but they’re facing a whole whack of violence and pushback for doing so – this is despite this exception being legally implemented way back in 1999. The police, the alleged enforcers of the law, did nothing. Indigenous people would like clean drinking water and a society that doesn’t bully their children into suicide with racism and systematic neglect. Indigenous people would like Canada to stop building random shit on their land – like a housing development or a golf course or a pipeline. Keep in mind a good chunk of Canada is unceded, in that we never actually came to an agreement with the Indigenous people who were already living here. We just came to this country and started building – fun fact, my family personally benefited from the Dominion Lands Act when the Canadian government encouraged European immigrants to expand westward by providing them with free land which was then defended violently by the RCMP against reasonably confused and angry Indigenous people. Canada is still basically building shit without Indigenous consent.

I have painted with very broad strokes here, and I am fully aware of the dangers of utilizing a pan-Indigenous approach to reconciliation. Indigenous people are not a monolith; for example, there are some Indigenous people who do want pipelines – it’s a thing. However, the whole argument of this entire post is that the same behaviours that resulted in the horrifying stories that we’re hearing in the news are on-going, and the very least we could do is stop those behaviours.

Even in those areas with treaties, I wonder how often those treaties are actually respected by current day policies?

Now I know that Critical Race Theory says that every single white person is an evil racist who should be ashamed of themselves. The only solution possible is for white people to surrender to the judgment of the BIPOC Marxist authorities and embrace their summary execution. Oh wait, nobody seriously says that. Not even Critical Race Theory says that. I’ve already addressed that the Calls to Action are about reconciliation – people living in peace, love, and harmony, man! The 94 Calls to Action are not an exhaustive list, and do not lay out guidelines for the practical implementations that might be required given we live in a practical world. They don’t say anything on how to react when the Canadian government says that they know residential schools were meant to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children, but that there is no evidence that they “sought to destroy the ability … to speak their Indigenous language or to lose the customs or traditions of their culture.” I mean, I don’t know if the TRC explicitly defines what ‘assimilate’ means, but surely the Canadian government has access to a dictionary.

Thousands of dead Indigenous children cannot be undone. What we do for the future matters. There are plenty of avenues to follow when addressing Indigenous issues in Canada, but some are better than others. Governments need to work with Indigenous communities and leadership to reconcile atrocious Canadian history. Canada isn’t all bad – we live in a democracy; we can hold governments accountable to this. When we say Canada did a bad thing, it only means we want justice for that, not annihilation. Let’s work for justice. You’d think that with thousands of dead Indigenous children, that much would be obvious.