Canadians are increasingly demanding the truth about the agonizing history of Aboriginal boarding schools, and the revelation of children’s graves on their campuses has shocked the country.
“It’s definitely a turning point,” said Guillain Picard, president of the First Nations Council of Quebec and Labrador. “People are more responsive now that they want to know the truth about this dark chapter of Canadian history.”
Hundreds of unidentified graves were recently discovered on the campuses of a number of the aforementioned schools, where tens of thousands of indigenous children were forcibly sent to religious schools across the country from the late 19th century until the 1990s, and were separated from their families and cultures.
Thousands died in those schools, and many of them were attacked, according to an investigative committee that concluded that the Canadian government had committed “cultural genocide.”
In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology on behalf of the Canadian people for what those schools had witnessed.
“It was expected that one day we would discover something like this,” said 33-year-old citizen Marie-Christine Poifan-Fournier, expressing her shock after learning about these events.
While Canadians chose to respond to the news by supporting the indigenous population with financial donations, others poured out their wrath on the religious authorities.
Marie-Pierre Bousquet, professor of anthropology at the University of Montreal, confirmed that the discovery of the unknown graves was a major shock to Canadian society.
“People realized that the legacy of boarding schools was not only black and white pictures of children in their classrooms in the country, but a reality,” she said.
And she considered that “this is not the image that Canadians had of their country… It is not a country where children are secretly buried.”
She added, “They consider their country a multicultural democracy, with an enlightening past and vast expanses, not a country based on genocide. We finally realized that this is a myth. It is very harsh information.”
Experts estimate that nearly 150,000 children attended those schools, and that more than 4,000 of them died.
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