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Unmarked graves in Canada raise questions about Australia’s stolen children

  • 12 August 2021
Across the Pacific Ocean, in Canada or ‘Turtle Island’ as it is also known by many of its Indigenous inhabitants, a horror has been unfolding. It started at a the former residential school in Kamloops, British Colombia where, via the use of ground penetrating radar technology, the remains of at least 215 Native Canadian children were found buried in mass unmarked gravesites. This school ran for 85 years, was part of compulsory government programs to forcibly assimilate these children, and was administered by the Catholic Church.

Not long after this first discovery, the bodies of another 751 children were found using the same technology at the former Marieval Indian Residential School, this time in Saskatchewan. There was an outpouring of grief from all the families and communities whose children, over a century, had never made it home and who were never granted the dignity of recognition in death and a proper burial. These children were simply disposed of like rubbish.

Yet as well as grief, there was also anger and calls for action. If nearly 1000 Indigenous children could be found disposed of in the grounds of just two of these residential schools, just how many other children would be found in the grounds of the other 130 or so residential schools that operated across the country for such a long time? How did these children die?

Institutional abuse within these schools which were run by a variety of Christian denominations has, to an extent, been acknowledged politically, with President Trudeau making an official apology to the survivors of these systems in 2017. However, mass gravesites suggest that regardless of any apologies, the full extent of the horrors endured by First Nations children at the hands of the state are still being uncovered. Given the sheer number of the schools and the length of the forcible removals, it will be a while before all is known and proper reparations are made.

Sound familiar? That’s because unfortunately for Indigenous populations, acts of genocide like this (and Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations is calling it genocide) by colonial powers tend to be replicated globally. In Australia, we’re still reckoning with our own past policies which forcibly removed, at its height, about a third of Aboriginal children from their families and communities to assimilate them. The idea being that their ‘full blood’ family members were dying out so for those who