Back then it was called assimilation. Now, it’s recognized as cultural genocide. For generations, Indigenous families in Canada were forced to send their children to residential schools where their culture and language were eroded.
The church-run schools, which operated between 1883 and 1996, were set up to turn Indigenous children into Christians and rid them of their heritage. They robbed them of their culture, and many were subjected to emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Disease and malnourishment were also common in the often-overcrowded schools. More than 4,000 children died while attending the schools. Since May of this year, with the help of new technology, around one thousand unmarked graves have been found at the sites of three former residential schools – two in British Colombia, and one in Saskatchewan.
The discoveries prompted a national outcry. The Canadian government has issued several apologies, but many feel these fall short of making up for the decades-long systematic mistreatment of Indigenous people. Among those is a group of survivors from Ontario, who brought a class action suit against the Canadian government. This documentary tracks their fight.
First Nations people and Inuit in Canada continue to face hardships. They experience a disproportionately high prevalence of suicide, substance use, and drug and alcohol addiction compared to the overall Canadian population. Perhaps even more worrying are the numbers concerning violence against Indigenous women. Twenty-four percent of all women killed in Canada belong to Indigenous communities. Between 1980 and 2012, a total of 1181 Indigenous women in Canada were reported missing or killed. Theirs is a story of struggle – tied to a past of systematic abuse that was even codified in the act of Parliament, the Indian Act. Following #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, this dark chapter of Canada’s history is now finally also receiving international attention.