In light of the recent discovery of remains of 215 children at Kamloops Indian Residential School, I’ve been looking at archival images online, zooming in on children’s faces to see their eyes and trying to reach past the hopelessness and numbing feeling that comes from living in an age when the most troubling parts of humanity are at our fingertips every minute of the day.
Under the weight of responsibility and the need to do something, an unsettling question keeps coming up: what can I say that hasn’t already been said?
Looking into their eyes, I thought about growing up with a disability and feeling what must be a fraction of what they once felt being forced to see themselves as an offense.
I understand what it’s like to be enveloped by an institution whose primary mission is to assimilate, eradicate and make me presentable to society. However, as a white child with white parents, I’ve never had to worry if I’d ever see my family or home again nor have I ever had to fear for my life.
Many of us are well aware that we are part of a system that’s built on the colonial premise that to be different is to be categorically “unfit”, inferior and less deserving of life.
We see it play out in the police brutality of Black and Indigenous people, and in the lack of justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. We see it in advanced gene therapy that suggests parents can one day start designing what kind of children they want to have. We see it play out in a global pandemic – the way we neglect our elderly, or prioritize vaccinating certain neighborhoods over others regardless of what the data is telling us. I heard it play out recently in a conversation with my father who confessed to still being disappointed that his child was born deaf.
If we are aware we play a part in this system, we know we can play a part in changing it. Despite all the effort that goes towards fighting it, difference is not an offense but an instrument of power.
Next week, with Anishinaabe Elder Mona Stonefish (Bear Clan) and Sky Stonefish (Anishinaabe, Bear Clan) at the helm, Creative Users will be embarking on a journey with scholars, artists and curators of Into the Light: Eugenics and Education in Southern Ontario using difference-centred design to talk about this difficult history and exploring what it means to learn it and what it means to teach it.
My hope is that through art, we can play a small part in bringing this history to light and untangle the experience of “knowing” and learning so that more of us can see that, no matter where you come from, we each have the power to do something.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like to support, please consider:
- Sending a donation to survivors and their families at the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.
- Signing this petition to establish a National Day of Mourning for the Lost Children of Residential School.
To access support and crisis referral services:
- Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419