Now that we've marked the first anniversary of the locating of 215 unmarked graves from near the former site of Indian Residential School in Kamloops, we must need to acknowledge how this so-called system of educating Indigenous kids in the name of assimilation has actually contributed to the climate emergency.
Indian residential schools were opened by colonists and churches to force Indigenous children to give up their culture and adopting Eurocentric ways and Christianity to fit in.
These laboratories of cultural genocide, as they should actually be called instead of schools, forced the original inhabitants of Turtle Island to alter their world view, which was treated as pagan. This was the height of arrogance on part of the self-proclaimed founders of Canada who rejected many progressive ideas of the First Nations, such as treating land as a shared space rather than a personal property and respecting Mother Earth, the water and nature alongside all living creatures. Instead, the colonists throttled their own hierarchal and individualist ethos on them.
If Europeans, who later became a dominant force in Canada, had come with humility to learn from the Indigenous population, instead of imposing their way of thinking, the world might not be dealing today with a climate emergency.
Last year’s discovery of the unmarked graves coincided with a heat dome that led to nearly 600 deaths in B.C. This exposed how capitalism has not only failed to prevent catastrophes, but created them in the first place, making survival of humanity more difficult.
Let’s face it: climate change and greenhouse-bas emissions are the result of capitalist greed, which prompted expansionism and imperialism, bringing Europeans to the doors of Canada. This land was gifted with abundant forests, clean drinking water, and wildlife. An effort was needed to preserve all this for future generation, but the resource-hungry and business-oriented colonists conveniently overlooked any possibility of a sustainable model of development and exploited everything to fill their chests.
The church made their task easier and gave them the legitimacy to occupy everything through papal bulls, such as terra nullius, giving the conquerors a licence to assume this was nobody’s land and creating a baseless Doctrine of Discovery, as if neither the lives or the values of Indigenous peoples mattered.
Let’s hold our elected officials accountable for making tokenistic statements on the recently anniversary, while at the same time allowing controversial projects—such as the Site C dam and Coastal Gaslink and Trans Mountain pipelines—to be pushed through traditional and unceded Indigenous lands, increasing environmental vulnerability.
It’s time to put leadership into the hands of the First Nations, who alone can wriggle us out of this crisis. Being closely connected to the nature, they can come up with better solutions that can only be found outside the box. That’s the least we can do to undo the damage caused by Indian residential schools and those who created them.