every child matters

A memorial in Ottawa, Ontario June 1, 2021 in honour of the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were confirmed on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, in Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc, British Columbia.

CONTENT WARNING: The following story contains details about Indian Residential Schools (IRS) and their legacy. A national IRS Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day and can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.

Hub Staff

As we approach Canada Day, July 1, news has broken of more children's remains being confirmed at former Indian Residential Schools (IRS). On June 24, 2021, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and Cowessess First Nation announced the "startling discovery" of 751 unmarked graves near the former Marieval Residential School.

The school was overseen by the Roman Catholic Church from 1886 to 1970, read the press release. "During this time children who attended Marieval and passed were buried at this gravesite. In the 1960s the Catholic Church removed the headstones and today, we have over 600 unmarked graves," the release said, adding that their end goal is to locate, identify, and put a mark down honouring their loved ones.

Less than a month earlier, on May 27, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc in British Columbia confirmed the remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, the largest in the Indian Affairs Residential School System. "We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify," said Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir. "To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths," Kukpi7 Casimir said.

Add to that 104 in unceded Dakota territory in Brandon, Manitoba; 38 in Treaty 4 territory in Regina, Saskatchewan; 35 in Muskowekwan First Nation near Lestock, Saskatchewan, and 182 in the community of ʔaq’am, Ktunaxa Nation, near Cranbrook, British Columbia, bringing the total to 1325 in Canada alone.

And that number is expected to climb.

While conservative estimates offered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) suggested that between 4,000 and 6,000 children died in residential schools in Canada, The Honourable Murray Sinclair, former Chair of the TRC, recently said that the total number was probably closer to 15,000. In addition to the 139 facilities operated under Indian Affairs and included in the TRC, there were over 1,000 additional facilities that were operated provincially, territorially, privately, or by a church. 

In a June 1 statement from Sinclair, he said he thought he knew what to expect when he embarked on the work of the TRC but stories from survivors "proved to be horrendous" and one aspect "that really proved to be quite shocking" was stories of the children who had died.

"Of the children who died, sometimes deliberately, it was at the hands of others who were there, and in such large numbers," Sinclair said.

While for many these stories have been known and told for decades, for some they are making their way into the Canadian settler collective for the first time. The last residential school closed in 1996, just 25 years ago, and the ongoing legacy of these facilities and of this country's treatment of Indigenous Peoples is seen and felt on reserves, in unsafe drinking water, in Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit (MMIWG2S); in prisons, policing, and court systems; in resource extraction and land degredation; in health care, through the foster care system, in suicide and addiction epidemics, and in ongoing policies and legislation.

Victoria, British Columbia was the first city to cancel their Canada Day celebrations in light of recent news. The vote was unanimous from Victoria City councillors and in a press release June 10 Mayor Lisa Helps said, "Now is a time where the City can take leadership and provide an opportunity for thoughtful reflection and examination of what it means to be Canadian."

The City of Penticton, also in British Columbia, soon followed suit and in a June 18 statement, Mayor John Vassilaki said that given time constraints and ongoing gathering restrictions, planning an event that appropriately honoured "the history, culture and traditions of Indigenous people," was not possible and instead encouraged citizens to spend a day with family and reflect on Canada's history. 

In a Facebook post June 25, the Town of Truro, Nova Scotia said out of respect for Indigenous communities across Canada, they were opting for a day "to reflect on how we can take action for reconciliation, Nation to Nation," adding, "We must acknowledge what has happened, learn to become better allies to Indigenous people, and work together to promote education and healing."

In a June 24 media release, South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Janice Jackson said that with these tragedies in our thoughts, hearts and minds, "it has become clear that this is not a time for celebration, but rather a time to show solidarity with our Indigenous neighbours of the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation and the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, as well as First Nations communities from across Canada."

In a Facebook post June 25, Tobermory Chamber has cancelled their Canada Day fireworks "due to the recent discoveries of the atrocities at former residential schools" and "to show solidarity with First Nations communities across Canada."

Cities and communities making the decision to cancel their Canada Day celebrations continues to grow and at the time of publishing also included Wilmot Township, South Huron, Belleville, and Prince Edward County in Ontario; Kelowna, Albert Bay, Port Hardy, West Vancouver, Vancouver, and Port Alice in British Columbia; St Albert in Alberta; La Ronge and Air Ronge in Saskatchewan; Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit in Nunavut; and Cap-Pelé, New Maryland, Bathurst, Saint John, Fredericton, Rothesay, Rogersville, Miramichi, Quispamsis, and Blackville in New Brunswick.

Chippewas of Nawash First Nation's Bzaunibiikwe Helena Joanne Keeshig said, "It’s heartening to see the response of so many municipalities as they learn about the atrocities that have been suffered by the First Nations across Turtle Island. The truth of how this country was founded in legislative racism and genocide and how those policies were carried out systematically through every level of government is now coming into the light for everyone to see."

Keeshig continued. "Today my heart is filled with much sadness and grief for those little ones that have been found and for those who are still waiting to be found. I grieve as a daughter, granddaughter and as a niece. I grieve as a mother, and a grandmother.

"Collectively, as First Nations and Settler people we have been given the opportunity to reflect on our relationship with each other, and how do we want to move forward and what do we want this relationship to be," Keeshig said. "And once ALL of the children are found and our mourning period is complete, perhaps we can, in the words of Chief Sitting Bull, 'Let us put our minds together and see what LIFE we can make for our children.'"

As July 1 approaches and unmarked graves are expected to continue to make headlines, one thing is clear, in the words of Cherokee Nation's Daniel Heath Justice, it is time for Canadians to "do the heavy lifting" and questions we need to ask ourselves include: How can we, as Canadians, best support Indigenous nations and communities at this time? What are we going to do to reconcile and make right, not only our past, but our present and our future as well? What is our legacy going to be and how are we going to hold our elected officials, community leaders and organizations, and religious, educational, and legal institutions accountable? And finally, what message are we going to send this Canada Day?


The Legacy of Hope Foundation shared a video series, Residential School Survivor Stories, as part of their Our Stories... Our Strength project here

You can find the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action here

Published by IndigiNews June 2: Non-Indigenous people — here’s what you can do, right now

Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network breaks down allyship into three steps in their Indigenous Ally Toolkit

On May 9 APTN published Beyond Red Dress Day: Seven calls to action for Indigenous allies

A video published by CBC Kids News, featuring Cindy Blackstock: How to be an ally to Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Pam Palmater, a Mi'kmaq lawyer at Ryerson University in Toronto, and her latest for Canadian Dimensions: Cancelling Canada Day is a move towards truth, justice and reconciliation

The David Suzuki Foundation tackles the idea of Land Back here and here, featuring Anishinaabe storyteller and artist Bomgiizhik Isaac Murdoch and Anishinaabe writer, broadcaster and Canada Council for the Arts Chair Jesse Wente

For Richochet Media, contributor and Indigenous human rights and environmental activist Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel writes We don't need your shock, we need reparations and Land Back

On June 16, First Peoples Law published Residential Schools and Reconciliation: A Canada Day Proposal

Beginning July 1, the University of Alberta is offering their Indigenous Canada course for free. The 12-lesson course explores, from an Indigenous perspective, Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada: https://www.coursera.org/learn/indigenous-canada

Other suggestions include: calling out racism whenever we see it, donating to Indigenous organizations, following and amplifying Indigenous voices and supporting Indigenous artists, creators and businesses; holding non-Indigenous journalists and news organizations accountable in their reporting on Indigenous issues, learning about treaties and on whose treaty or unceded territory we live.

Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report here, and specifically the Missing Children and Unmarked Burials section here

Read the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls' final report here, and their Calls for Justice can be found here

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation's Education tab offers resources for preschool through Grade 11, as well as adult and teacher learning, and digital resources for online forums and in-person workshops and activities here

Read the May 27 media release from Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc in full here

Read the June 24 media release from FSIN and Cowessess First Nation here


In a July 8 release, the Penelakut Tribe announced that more than 160 undocumented and unmarked graves had been confirmed on the grounds of the former Kuper Island Industrial School, located on Penelakut Island between Vancouver Island and mainland Pacific coast, British Columbia. The facility was in operation from 1889 to 1975 and has been referred to as Canada's Alcatraz.

"We know healing can't happen in one day," read the release. "There are many truths to be told and heard."

See: KUPER ISLAND ~ Residential School Survivors Documentary