Late yesterday Canada was given notice that a press conference would happen this morning hosted by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan. We were all told that the press conference would be regarding a finding near the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, involving hundreds of unmarked graves. After the news from Kamloops just a couple of weeks ago, we all knew that other findings like these would come. We knew it wouldn’t be the last, and since then we’ve heard of other findings in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. But once the release went out last night that this press conference was coming, I just felt deep down how bad this would be. And today this news spoke for itself:
Everyone, I can’t hide it, I’m beyond heartbroken and finding myself at a loss for the right words. The number is hard to stomach, but it’s the details coming out during these details are what are driving me to write. The one detail that is upsetting me more than anything else is how these graves came to be unmarked. According to the details released in the press conference, the Catholic Church removed the headstones from these graves back in the 1960’s. For 60 years, these places of eternal rest for these children were turned into just a field, where God knows what happened there. No remembrance, no respect, no nothing.
It’s also an act of a guilty party, because in removing those headstones, they were basically appearing to try to cover up a crime scene. Instead of giving those children the basic humane respect that the Catholic faith speaks of and dares to profess, they removed those goddamned headstones because it covered their own asses. As a Métis person and a catholic, I cannot tell you how furious and sad this makes me. But the one feeling it doesn’t bring is surprise, because the pathological conduct of the Catholic Church is clear as can be. They are guilty and need to apologize to Indigenous peoples in Canada, period, end of story.
Yet, as with much in life, this news today didn’t happen in a vacuum or in isolation. That’s a fact that I can’t ignore given two further things that have come to the surface in the past twenty-four hours that speaks to how hopeless this can all feel for Indigenous peoples. We’re in a moment where we’re expecting the Catholic Church and our political leaders to do the right thing, yet instead here is what we’ve gotten coming out at the same time as this devastating news from Saskatchewan:
I’ll start with Pastor Owen Keenan of the Merciful Redeemer Parish, Mississauga, the irony of the name of that church not being lost on me at given Pastor Keenan’s complete lack of mercy in this moment. He said that on Sunday, just 5 days ago, well after the finding in Kamloops and he had the nerve to spew that kind of hate, painful crap from the pulpit. That’s denialist, hateful and so far beneath any dignity that that church might have ever had. It would be so at any time, but it’s even worse in this moment of deep suffering and pain. And of course, Pastor Keenan is so proud of his words that as soon as they reached the wider public, he deleted the video from YouTube. Ahhh yes, more destroying of evidence in the hope that no one will notice. It’s comments like those from the pulpit, with apparently no pushback from the parishioners present, that not only shows how little the Catholic Church truly cares about the victims of their work and their loved ones (apparently even those who are Catholic included), it shows that they aren’t going to change. Comments like that are a middle finger to the Indigenous community, and further show that the Government of Canada needs to force compliance from the Catholic Church with all the means at its disposal.
But that brings us to the second story that came out just as this news from Saskatchewan was coming out and the ignorance coming from Crown/Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett. It was a simple one-word text message, that spoke to all the worst and most ignorant tropes about Indigenous peoples. It would have been bad enough if it came from someone who has publicly become known for such crap, but to get it from this minister, the one whose whole job is the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples? It’s beyond excusable and just stunningly bad. Seriously, if anyone in this bloody Liberal government “knows better” than to do crap like that, it should be her. Yet there, bang, there it is, without any inkling of awareness or shame in doing it. Until she got called out on it publicly that is.
Bennett’s apology couched in letting “interpersonal dynamics get the better of me” is no excuse at all. What it says is that she has that much animosity towards Wilson-Raybould that she spoke her mind and was seeking to hurt her emotionally. That was a comment that was clearly made out of anger, which makes that weak apology even worse. Given the context and timing of when this happened, this is very much akin to when Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre went on radio making ignorant comments about Indigenous peoples on the same day that Stephen Harper gave the residential schools apology. Yet do I expect Prime Minister Trudeau to punish his minister in any real way, shape or form? Nope, not for a moment. He just doesn’t do that and I doubt that he will now.
And that’s why I can’t ignore those two stories in the context of the news from Saskatchewan today. While the news made me sad and speechless, these other two stories happening at the same time just made me furious. I’m unable to separate these stories because they speak to the situation so clearly. We Indigenous peoples need the Catholic Church and the Government of Canada to do the right thing right now, more than ever. Yet what we get from both is fingers in the eye, contemptuous statements and ignorant invectives when those “interpersonal dynamics” get the better of them. So what are my expectations right now? I have none, because it’s clear that asking these two institutions to act like adults, grow up, own their responsibilities and act with the same degree of humanity that they do to most others in the country is clearly too much for them to handle.
Might they think that judgement is harsh? Sure, but that’s what they’re showing us. Do they want that to change? Then grow the Hell up and rise to the moment. I’m tired of trying to convince these people to treat us with basic human decency and respect. I’m flat out tired. It’s time for them to do their part and in the meantime, I’m going to go and mourn for those 751 children, their families, their communities and prepare myself for the next time to come. That’s all I have the energy left for and I’m tired of fighting a helpless fight against a government and a church that have shown no will to change. If you want me to think otherwise, tell them to prove it. I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.