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Finding the missing: residential school cemeteries for indigenous children in Canada. A national strategy for identification, recording, preservation, and commemoration

Finding the missing: residential school cemeteries for indigenous children in Canada. A national strategy for identification, recording, preservation, and commemoration
Finding the missing: residential school cemeteries for indigenous children in Canada. A national strategy for identification, recording, preservation, and commemoration
Indian Residential Schools (IRS) separated children from their families with the goal of acculturating them to dominant Canadian society by suppressing Indigenous languages, traditions, and spirituality. Enforced residential schooling was the determined assimilationist policy of the Canadian government for approximately 130 years, with boarding schools for Indigenous children in operation in all parts of the country from the 1880s to the mid 1990s. Despite these goals the schools were consistently underfunded and often badly managed by the government of the day; abuse and disease were rampant and death rates were high. The schools became the subject of litigation in the 1990s. The resulting 2007 IRS Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) between former students, and jointly; the Government of Canada and the churches that administered the schools was the largest legal settlement agreement in Canadian history. A truth finding and reconciliation process was one element of this multi-faceted agreement. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was tasked to investigate all aspects of the residential school experience and to address the past historic injustices of forced assimilation, including school deaths. School records are incomplete and recorded numbers are lower, however TRC Commissioners estimated that 6000 students, and likely more, did not survive long enough to benefit from their education. Most of these children were buried in small unofficial cemeteries on or near the school grounds. Often, parents were not notified about the death of a child and in many cases descendant families still don’t know where their relatives are buried. Over the past several decades these small, largely unmarked, burial places are increasingly disappearing from the landscape. In the context of Canada’s international obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and recent interpretations of the Convention for the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, I argue the case for a nationally funded, comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, archaeological program for the identification and commemoration of these spiritually important sites. With the signing of the IRSSA, many Indigenous communities have begun a healing journey to reclaim their histories, locate relatives’ unmarked burial places, and restore and commemorate lost cemeteries in ways that have meaning for them. The Indigenous communities most impacted by these deaths are leading this work. Not the least of these impacts is the lack of ‘knowing’ where the dead are buried. In the aftermath of the TRC there is much talk among Canadians about the need for reconciliation. Support for the identification and commemoration of IRS burial sites is a tangible and concrete way for the archaeological community to contribute to that endeavor.
University of Southampton
Maass, Alexandra
06bf0d40-f065-474b-a5ae-1cbf63a2810f
Maass, Alexandra
06bf0d40-f065-474b-a5ae-1cbf63a2810f
Marshall, Yvonne
98cd3726-90d1-4e6f-9669-07b4c08ff1df
Yellowhorn, Eldon
d4b1c54f-0bb3-4605-a533-b9547311690d

Maass, Alexandra (2018) Finding the missing: residential school cemeteries for indigenous children in Canada. A national strategy for identification, recording, preservation, and commemoration. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 223pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

Indian Residential Schools (IRS) separated children from their families with the goal of acculturating them to dominant Canadian society by suppressing Indigenous languages, traditions, and spirituality. Enforced residential schooling was the determined assimilationist policy of the Canadian government for approximately 130 years, with boarding schools for Indigenous children in operation in all parts of the country from the 1880s to the mid 1990s. Despite these goals the schools were consistently underfunded and often badly managed by the government of the day; abuse and disease were rampant and death rates were high. The schools became the subject of litigation in the 1990s. The resulting 2007 IRS Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) between former students, and jointly; the Government of Canada and the churches that administered the schools was the largest legal settlement agreement in Canadian history. A truth finding and reconciliation process was one element of this multi-faceted agreement. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was tasked to investigate all aspects of the residential school experience and to address the past historic injustices of forced assimilation, including school deaths. School records are incomplete and recorded numbers are lower, however TRC Commissioners estimated that 6000 students, and likely more, did not survive long enough to benefit from their education. Most of these children were buried in small unofficial cemeteries on or near the school grounds. Often, parents were not notified about the death of a child and in many cases descendant families still don’t know where their relatives are buried. Over the past several decades these small, largely unmarked, burial places are increasingly disappearing from the landscape. In the context of Canada’s international obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and recent interpretations of the Convention for the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, I argue the case for a nationally funded, comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, archaeological program for the identification and commemoration of these spiritually important sites. With the signing of the IRSSA, many Indigenous communities have begun a healing journey to reclaim their histories, locate relatives’ unmarked burial places, and restore and commemorate lost cemeteries in ways that have meaning for them. The Indigenous communities most impacted by these deaths are leading this work. Not the least of these impacts is the lack of ‘knowing’ where the dead are buried. In the aftermath of the TRC there is much talk among Canadians about the need for reconciliation. Support for the identification and commemoration of IRS burial sites is a tangible and concrete way for the archaeological community to contribute to that endeavor.

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Finding the Missing, Residential School Cemeteries 05-2018 - Version of Record
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Published date: May 2018

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 422128
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/422128
PURE UUID: c97c199d-b201-4401-bbd6-dce28c9b1550

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 17 Jul 2018 16:30
Last modified: 01 Jun 2019 04:01

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Contributors

Author: Alexandra Maass
Thesis advisor: Yvonne Marshall
Thesis advisor: Eldon Yellowhorn

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