Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

I’m taking a deep breath in and blowing it out slowly. My heart is incredibly heavy right now. My mind is trying to process the unfathomable, and the inexcusable. A tragedy was exposed but, it’s something many have known, feared, for decades. Their voices have been silenced and ignored. It’s a painful truth about our country, our history, and I don’t know…Well, I don’t know if I have the words.

I’m angry- furious- and sad. I’m trying to reconcile my reality within the country I love and the reality many of you face every day. It’s a painful difference. It’s unfair. It’s unjust. It’s just wrong, and it shouldn’t be this way. My God, I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how we let this happen or how we perpetrated these atrocities.

The news came about a weeks ago, and I’ve taken time to process my feelings. They’re complicated, and I’m still not sure what I’m going to say. This’ll be as messy as my head, but we’ll get there in the end. So, here’s goes nothing. Another deep breath and…

I went for a hike this morning, and I was wearing a sweatshirt that said, I may live in Canada, but I was made in South Africa. A lady, coming in the opposite direction, squinted as she read my shirt and smiled. Welcome to Canada, she said, and I thanked her for her kindness.

My accent didn’t match the flag, and she frowned. I guess she was expecting something more melodic or exotic. I’ve been here a while, I told her, and sadly I got rid of my accent a long time ago. We immigrated when I was five so, I’ve had plenty of time to assimilate.

Going to school with a funny accent made me stand out, and I got teased for it. Every day after school I’d watch tv and copy the accents until my original was gone. Now, I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of it so quickly. It made me stand out, it was unique, and in a way, it made me special. 

I can’t do it now. My South African accent is gone for good, and when I try, I sound ridiculous. My family laughs at me, and rightfully. I miss it, though. I wish I’d held onto it. I wish I’d embraced my uniqueness, my culture and avoided complete assimilation.

It was a choice I was given, and apart from some juvenile teasing, I chose to join my adopted land without fear or intimidation. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to belong. Again, I had a choice, and I made it freely.

I’m incredibly proud to be Canadian, and I’m so grateful to live in this country. I have so many reasons to love living here. The biggest, of course, is the fact that I wouldn’t be alive right now if we hadn’t moved. For many reasons that I won’t go into, my family had to find a new place to call home, and this country opened its doors. We were welcomed with so much love, kindness, and generosity.

When we got off the plane in Winnipeg, Manitoba, it was February, and it was -30 degrees Celsius (-22 F). We’d never seen snow before or experienced temperatures that cold. My brother and I looked at our parents in dismay. What did you do? We asked, and tried to convince them that we needed to go home right away.

This is our home now, they patiently explained. That didn’t do much to calm our nerves or warm us up. I still remember the thin blue windbreaker and the running shoes I was wearing. The windchill went straight through me, and I thought I would turn into a people popsicle. It was so cold, and we weren’t prepared to face it.

Thank God for the kindness of others! A family welcomed us into their home and gave us a place to live until we could find a place of our own. They dug through their old winter clothes and found everything we’d need to make it through the winter. They let us borrow a car to get around. They took us shopping and showed us the strange new food we’d be eating (beaver tails, yum), and the funny-looking money.

They were the first people we met, but they wouldn’t be the last to show these immigrants hospitality and selflessness. I know the stereotype and, yes, Canadians are so nice. We experienced that more times than we can count. It came from people across the country, in many different ways, and it was always done with an open heart.

When we finally got our citizenship, I was so happy and proud to belong to this country. I pinned the flag to my sweater and went back to school with a big smile on my face. I was home. This country was my country. These people were my people. From sea to shining sea, were all stood together, and that made me feel so safe. 

But that’s not true for everyone.

I’m writing this with a heavy heart, and I’m struggling to find the words. I don’t know what to say or how to say it. This is my country, and I’m so grateful for everything its given and provided. I love, love, being a Canadian, and I still put a flag on my bag when I travel.

To me, that flag represents safety and freedom. It’s hope, kindness, and generous spirits. It’s a life I wouldn’t have had if this country didn’t stand tall and free. It means so much, but it’s also so flawed.

Recently, a mass grave was discovered in Kamloops, British Columbia. There were 215 bodies found inside. All of them children, and the youngest was reported to be about three years old. They were found next to a residential school that was shut down in the late 1970s

These— it’s hard to call them schools because they weren’t like anything I attended. First Nations children were forcibly removed from their parents, loved ones, homes, and communities by the government. They were sent to “schools” that were administered by churches and they were indoctrinated into Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of living.

When you say it like that, it sounds sanitized, but these places were horrific. Not only were these precious children stripped of their culture, language, and any connection to their loved ones; they faced horrific abuse, neglect, and death. They were beaten, starved, raped and murdered. They were kids, babies, and they suffered in the most brutal ways.

My heart…

I can’t even imagine how terrified they must have been. I picture tiny faces crying and asking for their parents. Small hands reaching for affection but facing pain. Did they beg? Did they say please? How do you look at another person, a child, for God’s sake, and ignore their tears? They deserved better. They should’ve been with their parents, siblings, and the communities that loved them. They should’ve had childhoods, played games, and they should’ve grown old with the people that adored them.

215 children in one “school” died. They were buried nameless, far from home, and their loved ones never knew what happened to them. This is one “school”— One!— and there was a whole network of “schools” all over the country. How many more graves will we find? How many children were lost, abandoned, or thrown away by the heartlessness of this country?

A country that gave me everything and took everything from others. I don’t know how to put that together in my head or heart. Not when my heart is breaking for those families and those children. I don’t even know what to say. There are tears in my eyes. Those children…Those babies…How could we do this to them?

I know there will be a slew of people justifying the actions of the government. They will say that they meant well or that there were few bad apples. Some will say it was a long time ago and ask why we should care now. They will call these kids victims of a lost age and say that it’s not our country now.

Please, shut up. That’s a load of bullshit. It wasn’t that long ago. For some perspective? The last “school” closed a few years before the 9/11 attacks in the United States. It wasn’t that long ago. These communities are still putting the pieces back together. Pieces we shattered and buried in mass graves.

Anyone who can’t offer words of compassion… What’s wrong with you? Babies are dead. People are hurting. I just can’t. No, you know what? I’m going to say it.

It takes a special kind of heartlessness and cowardice to dismiss these lives, their stories, in the name of patriotism or history. Discrimination still happens. Lives are still being lost to the same Euro-Canadian system that favours my skin tone over others. The pain is still horrifically real because the injustice is still happening. Stop dehumanizing people, minimizing their pain, and ignoring their grief.

Listen, pay attention to the voices crying out. I know it’s uncomfortable, and it’s easier to look away. Don’t look away! We can’t ignore what we’ve done or what’s still happening. Embrace the discomfort because it’s the only way we heal. It’s the only way we stop this from happening again. As the perpetrators of this crime against humanity— calling it what it is— it’s on us to make right what we can and face the repercussions when we can’t.

We (as a nation) killed children and threw them away like they were nothing, for fucks sake.

What’s wrong with us? As a country, I don’t understand how we let this happen. I don’t understand how we let the pain continue. Maybe I’m just stupid, but I don’t know how you can hurt kids and bury their bodies in a mass grave. What kind of monster does that? Who looked away and let it happen?

It goes against everything good, decent, and pure. It goes against God. It goes against humanity. It is evil in its purest form, and there’s no excuse or justification for these actions. No one with a heart would even try to make it okay.

To the families and the communities of these lost lives, I’m so sorry this happened to you. Those precious children deserved love, safety, and they should’ve been in your arms. This should not have happened, and I don’t know what else to say. I’m so, so sorry.

My heart is breaking for a community that’s grieving such a horrific loss. This country can and has done so much better. We are better than this, or we should be. You welcomed my family with open arms. You gave us a home, your kindness and generosity so freely. Now, let’s do that for everyone.

Please, please, we have to do better.

3 thoughts on “215 & Counting

  1. Agreed. I am absolutely horrified at what’s coming to light. I can’t fathom taking kids away from their parents and completely stripping them of everything they know and forcing new ideals onto them. It’s barbaric and heartless.

    I heard one survivor say that he saw quite a few kids being led away. At the time, he thought they were the lucky ones, because he thought they were going back home or to a better place. He now has to live with those memories thinking they were not one of the lucky ones at all.

    Like

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