Bystander in Raman

“The Lord proclaims: A voice is heard in Raman, weeping and wailing. It’s Rachael crying for her children; she refuses to be consoled, because her children are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15, CEB)

Many years ago I was on a work trip with a colleague from the Social Work department.  As you do on these long road trips we chatted and got to know each other in a whole new way.  He began speaking about old jobs and launched into a story about the first job he held – working in a Residential School in Northern Alberta.

He had a hard time telling me about it.  He lasted less than nine months in the position – filed a formal complaint about the abuses he witnessed and then watched helplessly as nothing was done to protect the children that he had worked with and grown to love.  He qualified things by saying “its better than it was” – but then lapsed into a helpless silence knowing that this was a really weak defense.  This conversation would’ve happened in about 1992; he would’ve been employed at this school in the late 70s.

I was incredulous.  This couldn’t possibly be a system that Canada – my home – the “home of the free and the brave” could support.  I harbored a secret wish that what he was telling me was the ramblings of someone who was cynical and burned out; but I knew that he was telling me the truth.  It was so raw and he struggled so much with finding the words to tell me his story.  And then I simply lapsed into a place of silence and helplessness.

There is a phenomenon in psychology that is called “the bystander effect” or “bystander apathy”.  This is a bunch of research that demonstrates that a person is less likely to intervene in a crisis or an emergency if they think that there are other people around.  There are countless numbers of stories of victims of crime yelling for help, but no one coming to their aid, simply because they thought that someone else would.

I think I became a Bystander.  I think we all have become Bystanders.  We all have allowed apathy to rule; because we believed that our Government would come to their senses?  Our churches?  I know that as I write this I realize how foolish this thinking was.  But truthfully, the survivors of the Canadian Residential School systems and many colonizer staff tried to tell us their stories and we didn’t intervene.  We didn’t help.  We didn’t even, really, change.

And so now we have been collectively knocked into action by the reports of 215 children buried in an unmarked grave outside of a school in Kamloops.  215 children; some as young as three years old.  And we know that we were told that these and many many other unmarked graves exist all across Canada.  Our country.  Our responsibility.  And our Church.

Yes, the United Church of Canada.  There are DOCUMENTED deaths in United Church of Canada-run Residentials Schools.  Documented deaths due to beating.  Due to starvation.  Due to medical experimentation.  So, if these are documented incidents, then I hope you will consider how vast the undocumented incidents are.

I have no more words, but I do have a lot of tears.  Please read and hear the stories.  Let the experience of these children seep into your soul and lament with me.


And move from being a Bystander into someone who intervenes.

Blessings Today and Remember you are Loved,

Rev. Lynne

Today my picture is of my two children at the age of about 2.5 and 4.  At the age of 4, Indigenous children would’ve been taken from their family homes and sent to the Residential Schools.  I. Can’t. Imagine.

3 thoughts on “Bystander in Raman”

  1. Dear Rev. Lynne,
    I feel your pain. I have a friend….an Anglican minister now, who was a teacher, and, who taught in a school in our Canadian North. He reported student abuse to the local bishop and within a month was transferred out of the area.
    We do have some sad stories to tell.

  2. Rev Lynne,

    I remember two things growing up in the UCC. First, we would often hear in church about residential schools and how honourable it was to go and assist for the summer or a year. When in my early teens, it was something I considered. I’m not sure I ever applied. This would be around the same time as your friend, 1969-71. We didn’t hear about the abuse or horrors, only the positive side, if there was one. I honestly naively believed we were helping.

    Similarly, I remember as part of CGIT or Youth Group going to Rideau Regional in Smiths Falls to visit and considered volunteering there. My heart broke for the young disabled children and adults housed there. We have since come to know the atrocities. I also know children and youth, who came from underprivileged or broken homes, were sent there and treated as if disabled. It touched someone in my family.

    It is long past the time of naivety. Rather I see some very sick individuals, who I hope will be held accountable, even though they are long gone. People like Duncan Campbell Scott, who was “responsible for making residential schools mandatory for all Indigenous children over the age of five. He wrote the legislation himself and had an MP table it in the House of Commons. ”

    My distant cousin, Monica Virtue, said “Wondering why I’m so passionate about the topic of residential schools?

    We planned to include a scene about residential schools as part of “The Ipperwash Park Film Project,” which was filmed between 2005 and 2012. I was asked to research and then film a scene about the topic back around 2010. My dad played Duncan Campbell Scott, the man who was the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. In 1920, DC Scott was responsible for making residential schools mandatory for all Indigenous children over the age of five. He wrote the legislation himself and had an MP table it in the House of Commons. It was part of the same Bill that made it legal to enfranchise an entire band at the same time — an effort by DC Scott to obtain the St. Clair Reserve, or Aamjiwnaang First Nation, so it could be turned into Chemical Valley.

    The re-enactment that we filmed at the Woodstock Museum showed my dad reading Scott’s famous speech before a Parliamentary committee in March of 1920, as he was working to have residential school attendance made mandatory:

    “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.””

    My heart keeps breaking for the children.


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