CALGARY — A Calgary Indigenous woman is walking a couple hundred kilometres in an effort to raise awareness and seek justice for the hundreds of unmarked graves found on the sites of former Canadian residential schools.
Carmel Crowchild began her journey Saturday morning, walking along the Trans-Canada Highway from the Chiniki Sub Office of the Cochrane RCMP detachment, all the way to the Stoney Nakoda Resort.
She chose this route because it’s where her father grew up on Stoney Nakoda territory and marks the same highway where she was raped as a young woman.
Crowchild considers herself lucky to be alive, but she grieves for missing and murdered Indigenous people, along with those who suffered in the residential school system.
“My mother attended St. Phillips near Kamsack, Saskatchewan and saw crimes of babies being thrown into furnaces, babies’ heads being smashed in, and hearing priests call newborn babies the spawn of the devil,” Crowchild said.
“I search for the murdered and missing, I know a lot of stories and I’ve seen ugly things out there and continue to suffer PTSD as a result, it still continues and not much is changing.”
Following the walk, Crowchild plans to drive to Revelstoke, B.C. where she will embark on another 183-kilometre journey on foot to the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
She hopes that each candidate for prime minister will pledge to take serious action and investigate violence against Indigenous people across the country.
“I’m being an example of how to help yourself, how to speak up and how to be brave,” she said. “I can’t be silent anymore because when we hide behind silence, we’re condoning bad behaviour and the exploitation of children.”
The message sent by Crowchild is already being received by non-Indigenous people like Justin Knibbe from Calgary, who joined in on the walk Saturday.
“I first chatted with Carmel on Friday over the phone and asked how I could help and she invited me to walk with her so I was honoured,” Knibbe said.
“I’m sorry to say that the unmarked graves were really an awakening time for a lot of us as Canadians and we should have been more aware of our history and our culture, but a lot of us didn’t know about the residential schools and are very ignorant in this area.”
Knibbe adds that understanding the issue of Indigenous violence is a first step toward reconciling.
“This is something that’s a part of all of our histories, we need to face it, and learn from it.”
‘THIS IS GENOCIDE’: INDIGENOUS ADVOCATE
Michelle Robinson, a Calgary-based Indigenous advocate, is calling on the Canadian government to classify the atrocities within residential schools as a “genocide.”
“Canada has to get over this and just recognize it as a genocide appropriately, put it in our museums, put it in our history books and our curriculum that we currently need,” said Robinson.
“The RCMP and the Canadian government also can’t investigate themselves when they were the perpetrators of these genocides, so we have been asking the international community to be a bigger part of this investigation.”
Robinson adds there is a lack of investigations related to violence against Indigenous peoples and notes that the federal government has the power to implement its 94 calls to action and 231 calls to justice.
“The corruption of the federal government is so deep seated, it’s just an embedded part of our structure, and we really do need to start taking to task where we really are on this, because right now our genocide is not being properly honored,” she said.
FEDS PROMISE MORE FUNDING FOR RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS
The federal government says it plans to appoint a special interlocutor to work with Indigenous communities to change federal laws, policies, and practices related to unmarked graves at residential schools.
Ottawa also announced $321 million in funding this week for a range of initiatives related to residential school searches and to support Indigenous communities doing the work.
“We recognize that there are a number of immediate and urgent growing needs for support, especially as more confirmations of unmarked burials at former residential institutions are made across the country,” said Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller on Tuesday.
Among what the government promised Tuesday was to spend an additional $83 million in funding to the previously-promised $33.8 million going toward implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) calls to action 72 to 76, which focus on what needs to be done to identify children who attended residential schools and didn’t come home.
This funding will include supporting record and archive work, and will be informed by the still-being-established national advisory committee to provide advice from experts who specialize in archeology, forensic pathology, and mental health.
“As the country gains a deeper understanding of our shared history, Canadians are looking for ways to support Indigenous communities. Canadians want to play a role in the journey of reconciliation,” Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Tuesday.
With files from Rachel Aiello, CTVNews.ca Ottawa News Bureau Online Producer