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Byron Shire
August 6, 2021

Comment: Vigil for Canadian genocide that resonates closer to home

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Mary Woo Sims

Yesterday, in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, members of the Tweed community held a ceremony at the Sacred Heart Church in Murwillumbah.

Australia and Canada’s Indigenous Peoples share a common history in that both were colonized with the impact that the first peoples suffered immeasurable pain and continuing systemic discrimination.

Tweed residents held a ceremony at the Sacred Heart Church in Murwillumbah. Image Cindy Louise Vallet

A month ago, 215 bodies of Indigenous children were found in unmarked graves at a residential school, operated by the Catholic Church on behalf of the Canadian government.

These residential schools existed to commit cultural genocide.  The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996.

In the 1890’s, Catholic Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin, in lobbying for government funding for residential schools said that the purpose of these schools was to ‘instil in [the children] a profound distaste for native life that they should feel humiliated when reminded of their origin’.

In Kamloops 215 children also lost their lives.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recorded 3,200 confirmed residential school deaths — and said it believes there are significantly more unrecorded deaths.

In a third of those deaths, the student’s name was not recorded by school or government. In a quarter, no gender was recorded. In about half, no cause of death was recorded

Australia’s First Peoples have suffered similar fates to those of Canada’s.  The Stolen Generations recorded some examples of the treatment of Indigenous Peoples.  No doubt, should Australia have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, more examples of injustice and historical truths would be revealed.

This solidarity action is happening at the same time as Canada celebrates National Indigenous Peoples Day.

This day is meant to celebrate the diverse cultures and achievements of the First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. This year however, it will also be a painful reminder of how far the government and religious institutions tried to erase them.

The Catholic Church, an international religious institution, is complicit in what happened to those 215 children.  The Pope, its head, refuses to apologize.  The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have refused to release their records to help identify the remains found and have offered no comment on the discovery of the children’s bodies.

We say to them – Say Sorry.  Be Sorry.

We send a message of solidarity to the Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

We, as allies, recommit ourselves in Australia to work against the ongoing racism and discrimination against the First Peoples here in Australia. To demand accountability, consequences, and redress.

We are all a part of humanity.  Let us remind ourselves that an injustice to one is an injustice to all.

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