Every year we celebrate our birthdays together. My friend, Bernie and I. We break out the cribbage board, make tea and talk. Today she told me she went to three residential schools. Three. I knew she went to one. We talked about it over the years. Not much. Just in safe moments and always in whispered tones.
Today was different. Today she told more. Two of the schools had those electric chairs. She saw them. She saw a boy once die in that chair. She stopped speaking the language that day.
All the schools were bad she said. All of them did terrible things to the children. She said they did tell their parents and others at home about what was happening. No one believed them. She said, ” …. even our parents didn’t believe us. They thought we just didn’t want to go back to school. They thought we were making it up. ” We both agreed it would be hard to believe something so evil as hurting children.
Evil. That is the word we both thought was the only one appropriate. Evil done in the name of their God. It was the collusion between church and the federal government across both colonized nations on this northern continent. If we are to see justice, it must cross borders, just as the bodies do.
Neither Canada nor the United States can claim to be absolved of this sin, of this crime against humanity. They continue to not be held accountable for the crimes.
Today she told me she lost four more family members in the last month. One got disconnected from life support yesterday after a drug overdose that rendered her brain dead. Two have gone missing from different locations connected with the oil industry. Diabetes finally took her brother.
She said,” It is like they moved the school outside the building and we are still there. In that bad place.”
It is true. We have the bodies to prove it. Not just the bodies of those children buried on the school grounds. The bodies of the brother that died from a drug overdose and the son that died by suicide. The bodies of the sister that is behind bars and that daughter sleeping on the streets.
As the count of those found under the ground grows, and we have our birthday tea, we wondered if we will ever count those “off campus” bodies. We wonder how we are not yet among them, as we celebrate our 67th birthdays together over a cup of tea and a conversation.