Editor’s Note: This story was excerpted from the June 29 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
In the words of Chief Bobby Cameron, it is time to listen to the “whispers” of past children.
The leader of Canada’s Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations evoked a singular image when he spoke with me last week: Indigenous children hauntingly pleading from their graves for Canada to atone for atrocities committed against them.
The past month has launched a national reckoning like no other. Discoveries in British Columbia and Saskatchewan unearthed apparent evidence of what Indigenous peoples have been telling Canadians for years: that tens of thousands of their children were forcibly removed from their families for decades and sent to what some described as more like “concentration camps” than boarding schools. More than 750 unmarked graves were discovered at one such school.
All of this has stirred a national debate about whether to celebrate Canada’s national holiday on July 1. On social media, #CancelCanadaDay is still trending. But would canceling one day even be an adequate act of contrition?
We Canadians don’t like to hear it, but we can be a self-righteous bunch. Like most other Western democracies, we often present ourselves on the international stage as the ones with the moral authority to investigate crimes against humanity in faraway places.
But like Chief Cameron asked us, it’s time to start listening to the whispers. Sometimes they are open screams – like those of Joyce Echaquan, the Indigenous mother who was insulted and neglected by Quebec hospital staff as she lay dying last year.
Canadians can no longer deny this growing chorus. Racism in the country is real and spans hundreds of years; it will take more than a day to begin making amends.
‘There are many unmarked graves in your country’
“I would like to say this on a closing note,” Chief Cameron told CNN’s Paula Newton last week, emphasizing his belief that many unmarked Indigenous graves are yet to be discovered across North America.
“President Joe Biden, if you are listening, we implore you and we advise you to work with our brothers and sisters in the United States, because there are many unmarked graves in your country. Work with those chiefs and councils and survivors to help give those bodies a proper burial.”