"To tell the truth that, for a very long time in this country there were laws that sent Indigenous children to schools that were far away from their homes, and in those schools really bad things happened...to have that conversation with your children...to let them read the stories and for you to read with them...
If they are ready to have these conversations about why these laws were put into place, then be truthful that Indigenous people were seen to be inferior and that they needed to change their ways, their cultures, their language, their ways of knowing, being and walking in this world - these were not seen as something to share with dignity, not held with respect...
If the children are old enough to understand, you can talk about assimilation...you can talk about genocide and how that is actually what has happened in this country..." Monique Gray Smith
It has taken me a long time to process the enormity of 215 unmarked childrens' graves - not because a story of unmarked graves for children has never surfaced before, but rather because such stories have.
I expect there will be blood woven through the annals of history - humanity has a long history of finding ways to kill each other without too much provocation, to be honest. Looking back through times past, one will find many sad and terrible examples of unmarked graves, unremarked deaths of a nation's youngest citizens, unreported child deaths for any number of not-particularly-valid reasons. I may react viscerally and with anguish to stories of genocide and assimilation but I do not find them to be shocking or overwhelming, they are part of the historical record written in words, in blood, in bone across nations of all political dimensions.
What takes my breath away, makes me stop whatever I am doing because I am still in shock - is that we are still trying to cover any of this up rather than acknowledging we messed up and will do better in the future.
"Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.
- Maya Angelou
We do know better. Why are we hiding the truth? Why are we not releasing any and everything we know about residential school deaths, burials and losses so that, collectively as a nation, we are able to mourn and grieve and then do better? It is this knowledge that more cover-ups exist that keeps me awake at night.
215 voices were silenced. Yet, it required a long time, investigations and insistence by the families for their truths to be revealed. That is roughly half the population of our school - imagine losing half the school's population of children - how quiet the world of school would become. Imagine the anguish of families never knowing what happened to their child after being taken away to school. A simple disappearance with no simple situation left behind.
Last Monday, as classes gathered beneath our lowered flags to speak in hushed and tearful voices of what this discovery actually meant to them, a young child in grades 1/2 came up to me and asked, "But, Mrs. Kinsman, why did the teachers let this happen to the children?"
I was not - am not - able to find words to offer in response to that question.
What we are able to do is speak from a place of empathy, of kindness, of peace. What we are able to do is share the stories of the survivors and the children themselves. We are able to acknowledge Canada has a bloodied past and still move on towards a brighter future. We are able to stop perpetuating the grief of determined searching in a world that already knows there are other truths to be found.
"How do we want to be together? You hold me up when you are kind to me, when you play with me, when you respect me, when you listen to me...Kindness is really a salve right now, if you are looking for some ways to change things right now, find ways to be kind." - Monique Gray Smith
When we were able to sit with our learners and hear their questions, and to discuss the history of our country in real terms rather than postcard descriptions, we learned from the children that being 'different' in any way was not necessarily a trait to be overlooked or diminished but more likely to be celebrated. if one can draw 'differently' than most other children, or play a musical instrument better than expected, or create a game that wows all their classmates, this accelerates feelings of success and belonging. Different does not necessarily mean inferior. At least not in our school - 'we have room for different', as one child reassured me today.
Last week, we had children playing a game where they were recruiting new Peace Ambassadors for the school - complete with questionnaires and clipboards. Part of the game was to present yourself as a potential Peace Ambasador for the school and describe how you might make our school a peaceful community. There were lots of ideas that emerged from the game - more importantly for me was the clear understanding of what makes a peaceful community care for each other articulated by several students. We are far from perfect, but we encourage children to do their best to accept each other as joyous, creative humans in a busy, loving school. We encourage kindness and acceptance. We promote sharing and caring.
And these days, kindness is definitely a salve.
To remember the 215 children whose graves are believed to be located on the Residential School site in Kamloops, BC, we have decided to incorporate the number '215' somewhere visibly on our first reflective outdoor mural. We have worked hard with Saa'kokoto over our five years to develop a clear sense of how Indigenous perspectives can both inform and strengthen our understandings of the natural world, as well as human relations, and many of these teachings and learnings have been captured in our overall mural design. To our way of thinking, this is how we move confidently into a more just and caring world - with kindness, with empathy, with a deep appreciation for the value of humanity as we honour every human life and build a peaceful community together.
We will continue the discussions, the reflections, the story sharing with each other and around each other. we will not forget the 215 who were found last week, nor be wholly shocked when other situations like this arrive. We will celebrate and embrace our differences and work hard to urge new approaches, renewed openness to the truths that are lurking in the backgrounds of the stories being told and shared. We will remember and we will share.
"And this is one of those times when can begin to come together...to say 'Can you imagine?' And that is what is happening now. Parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles are imagining and the empathy is coming alive. And that empathy will move us forward and it will create change. We cannot rely on the federal or provincial governments for that change - we've seen that.
The change is incumbent upon us as citizens who live in this place we call Canada.
So, I invite you to have these conversations with your children, in your classrooms, with your family and friends.
Hold the space.
The reality is that we are only beginning this journey to feel, to understand, to uphold dignity and to move forward.
And every single one of us has a role in this.
So I invite you to create a role for yourself.
What can you be reading, what can you be listening to, who are having conversations with so that, when the children ask you - and they will - that you are ready to have these conversations.
A big part of all of this is our humility to realize there is lots we don't know and more to be revealed.
Please continue to educate your heart, your mind and your spirit."
- Monique Gray Smith
Something to remember; something to share.