SSMU Statement Concerning Residential Schools
30 June 2021
Content Warning: Residential schools, Anti-Indigenous racism, Sexual Violence, Death
Note: If you are a residential school survivor or their descendant and require immediate assistance, please call the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419. Indigenous people in crisis may also contact the Hope for Wellness crisis and support line, available 24/7 by chat or by phone at 1-855-242-3310. To our Indigenous community, we urge you to please put yourselves first, and surround yourselves with people who understand and validate your lived experience. Additional mental health resources can be found listed at the end of this document.
To the McGill Community,
The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) extends condolences, solidarity, and resources concerning the news of recent tragic discoveries of mass graves on the sites of former residential schools. These discoveries began on May 27, at the former Kamloops Residential School, the use of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) led to the discovery of a mass grave of approximately 215 children who attended the facility, followed by searches of other residential school grounds in the days and weeks following. On June 24, an investigation using GPR found evidence of a staggering estimate of 751 bodies at the former Marieval Residential School, which operated until 1997. These horrific recent findings are not the first instances of such discoveries, as inquiries led to discoveries back in 2012 at the former Brandon Residential School and in 2018 at the former Muskowekwan Residential School in Saskatchewan.
Indigenous peoples have been telling us for decades what happened to their children while away at residential schools. Only now, following the discovery of the unmarked graves, is the wider Canadian public willing to listen. Testimonies from the survivors themselves can be found in the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, released in November 1996 and more recently in 2015, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released their findings through their report, “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada”.
The residential school system operated in Canada for over 100 years, beginning in the late 1880s and continuing into the late 1990s, which is within the lifetimes of many members of the McGill community. Residential schools are a part of recent Canadian history. Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families to attend as recently as the late 1990s. There were a total of 139 federally-sanctioned residential schools in Canada, and an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend them. The primary goal of these schools was to separate Indigenous children from their families and communities, with the ultimate goal of eradicating Indigenous culture. The facilities were inhumane, with unsanitary conditions, sexual violence, and widespread abuse. Although the facilities no longer exist, Indigenous children have continued to be removed from their households throughout the Sixties Scoop, the Millennium Scoop, and through other systems such as birth alerts. Nationally, Indigenous children under 14 make up less than eight percent of children in Canada, but represent more than half of the children in care. Generations of Indigenous peoples in Canada have been taken from their homes, causing intergenerational harm to survivors, their families, and their communities that is rampant today.
Across Canada, Indigenous leaders and advocates have called on provinces, cities, and individuals to cancel Canada Day celebrations. Instead of celebrations on July 1, many have called for non-Indigenous Canadians to spend the day reflecting on Canada’s past and ongoing atrocities against Indigenous peoples, and to commit to actions of solidarity. The SSMU’s Executive Committee wholeheartedly supports this sentiment and we implore members of the McGill community to do so as well. We urge members of the McGill community to listen to the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples when they are offered, and to inform actions of solidarity based upon what Indigenous peoples say they need. Make use of content warnings, amplify the voices of those directly affected, and educate yourself about their lived experiences.
In our efforts to denounce the atrocities committed against Indigenous children and entire Indigenous nations and to foster a safe social environment, each of us must recognize the extent and limitations of our own social position and centre those most affected by racial injustice. We must recognize our social privileges where they exist, and use them to dismantle the oppressive structures on which they rest. The signatories to this letter reaffirm our personal and institutional responsibility to promote concrete, systemic advances to social and racial equity within all organizational aspects of our associations, as well as McGill University and society at large.
SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner
SSMU Executive Committee
Below is a list of mental health resources at McGill and in Montreal:
- Keep.meSAFE, 24/7 access to licensed counsellors available to all McGill students
- Peer Support Centre at McGill
- McGill Students’ Nightline
- Tel-Aide: 514-935-1101
- Crisis Text Line: Text ‘CONNECT’ to 686-868
- Suicide Action Montreal: 1-866-277-3553
- Centre for Gender Advocacy Peer Support Line: 514-848-2424 x7880
- Trans Lifeline: 877-330-6366
- Interligne: 514-866-0103 (Toll-free/text messaging: 1-888-505-1010)
- Project 10: 514-989-4585