The country is reeling after the remains of 215 children were found at a residential school site in Kamloops on May 28.
“I have a deep knowledge of this,” said David Restoule, Indigenous student specialist at Medicine Hat College and a member of the Ojibway tribe in Anishinabe. “So, for me it wasn’t surprising. It’s very upsetting, it’s very horrific.”
For more than a century, First Nations children were separated from their families and made to attend residential schools in an attempt to assimilate. A 2015 report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada points out that more than 150,000 children attended residential schools, which it describes as “cultural genocide.” It is estimated that up to 6,000 died.
Restoule, who previously worked in Indigenous Wellness and Addictions Prevention, says that based on his personal knowledge of the inter-generational trauma caused by residential schools, he feels the Kamloops number, though startling, is likely not be accurate.
“I have felt the energy from North America, maybe even worldwide,” said Restoule. “I feel the energy from my ancestors. Those are cousins, the way we look at it, all of us are relatives, all races … so this is felt around the globe I’m sure.”
Restoule, though not surprised by the announcement on Friday, acknowledges that others with less understanding of the events in residential schools will find this harder to process.
“I know a lot of people don’t have the knowledge or understanding of what happened, even our own people,” Restoule said. “So this is probably very damaging and a huge shock for some people that haven’t really paid attention. That is who I’ve been keeping in my thoughts and prayers, the ones that are having a hard time and are probably realizing that a lot of stuff that they heard in little bits and pieces is now coming back in concrete evidence.”
Restoule hopes people might take this opportunity to begin the journey to truly educate themselves on the history and events of residential schools in Canada. He suggests checking out the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada website at trc.ca.
“People always ask ‘What can I do to help?'” said Restoule. “Well, educate yourself. Find out some of the things that actually happened, and keep an open mind and an open heart to it. The things will sound appalling, and instead of saying, ‘No, there’s no way that happened’, just be open to it. It needs to be talked about and brought to light before we can do any further healing from it.”
Restoule is working on ways to check in with the students at the college he interacts with, welcoming them to chat with him virtually or otherwise. He will also run online sharing circles where people can come and share their responses to the recent announcement. They will be held Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week. More information can be found on the MHC Indigenous Support Office’s Facebook Page. You can also reach David by email at email@example.com.
“I’m sure that it’s upsetting to all,” Restoule stated. “And I think that’s probably the biggest thing out of this is that everyone should be upset … This is 215 children that were ripped from their families and then never seen again. There should be an outcry. I hope it brings attention in that way, for our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters in Canada to call for that from our government. Let’s look into this. I hope this brings some attention like that, because that’s the good stuff that can come out of this.”
MHC and Medicine Hat Public School Division are among a number of educational organizations across the country that will be lowering their flags to half mast for 215 hours – one for each child discovered.
Lauren Thomson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News