“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,
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.