‘There are more, you know’

By Lee Spice, Pastoral Relations Minister, Chinook Winds Region

Choutla Picture - Lee Spice

For years I have prayed for the children, hoping that some mystery of the universe would carry my love back in time and they might feel less alone as they faced their tormentors or drew their last breath.

I have hoped that the Holy One would comfort them – and agonized that the Mystery to whom I have appealed is the one whose name was invoked in order to perpetrate such evil. 

I still pray for the children. 

A few years ago, on a visit home to Whitehorse, my spouse, daughter and I spent a sparkling Yukon summer day in the archives. There, we found photographs of groups of children at the Chooutla school in Carcross. I had heard of the Carcross residential school as the one that my father had attended. 

He rarely spoke of it. I remember something about the boys chopping wood and the girls baking and sewing in the mornings, and then having classes in the afternoons. But it was never discussed at our house. 

The Chooutla school is described in documents from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation as having one of the most violent principals. He, apparently, had to have the boys held down, so brutal were his strappings. 

A photograph from the school shows a group of boys. There is one lad who looks a little like my brother. Something about how he squints into the sun. The dates are right – could that be my father? We have no childhood photographs, so we don’t know. 

There are more, you know. 

There are children buried all over our country, some accounted for, but many, many hastily interred with no recognition, no admitting of guilt, no notice to next of kin. No notice of common humanity. No respect for their little bodies – not enough to call hospitals or doctors, so not enough for recognition. 

And alongside these silent burials are the broken childhoods of so many more. Many are among us, newly traumatized by the “revelations” that they’ve known for years. Many, like my father, have gone to their graves with unutterable secrets.  

Their spirits are saying, “You have heard the truth.” 

And so, having heard the truth, what now?  

Continue to listen. Believe it when someone tells you. Reach out and support Indigenous organizations. Seek to understand systemic racism and to break the chokehold it has on our ways of life. Resist rationalizing. Review the apologies. Read the Calls to Action and take action. Shed the tears, yes. Wear the orange shirt, yes. But when the tears have dried, will this have changed you? Changed us? 

The past is now, for all time exists at once. 

And I still pray for the children.