We at AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM) are deeply saddened and upset by the recent news of the discovery of a mass grave of 215 residential school students on unceded Secwépemc land. This disturbing finding opens many wounds for Indigenous people across Turtle Island, who still live with the trauma and grief of the Indian Residential School System (IRSS). The discovery of this grave comes as no surprise, as IRSS survivors and their communities have long known about such sites, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has made quite clear.
ACCM is an organization that serves people living with HIV (PLHIV) and hepatitis C on unceded Kanien’kehá:ka land, in a city that is home to a diversity of Indigenous people from many nations. ACCM’s obligations are to a community among whom Indigenous people are overrepresented: while First Nations, Métis, and Inuit account for only 4.9% of the total population, 11.3% of all new HIV infections in 2016 in Canada were among Indigenous peoples.1 These higher rates of HIV and hepatitis C among Indigenous peoples in Canada are a result of the legacy of the IRSS, the intergenerational trauma that has resulted from it, and the ongoing genocide of which the IRSS was a part. ACCM would like to offer our support and solidarity to Indigenous communities, particularly at this difficult time.
The IRSS was established in the mid-19th century, with the last school operating until 1996. The explicit purpose of these schools was to remove Indigenous children from their families and communities in order to assimilate them into settler-Canadian society. Children were removed, often forcibly, from their homes and taken to schools funded by the Canadian government and operated primarily by churches. Children were forbidden from speaking their languages or practicing their cultures, faced extremely high rates of verbal, physical and sexual abuse, malnutrition, and diseases such as tuberculosis. These experiences have resulted in intergenerational trauma, and the disruption of communities and the transmission of culture and tradition. The IRSS is a part of a larger, ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian state. Its legacy continues to this day, particularly in high incarceration rates, the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care, and the chronic underfunding of services for Indigenous children. Here in Tiohtià:ke, it has been found by the Quebec Human Rights Commission that the Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux Ouest de l’Île de Montréal (CIUSSS ODIM) chronically violates Indigenous children’s rights to education and development. The trauma and social disruptions experienced by residential school survivors and their families directly contributes to the higher prevalence of HIV and Hepatitis C among Indigenous people.
ACCM acknowledges the role colonialism has played in the HIV epidemic, and echoes Indigenous communities in calling for action to address its legacy. ACCM calls on all levels of government in Canada and Quebec to:
- Accelerate and complete a comprehensive national search for other residential school burial sites across the country, as the TRC has requested as part of its Missing Children and Unmarked Burials Project.2
- Accomplish all of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised in 2015 to implement all 94 Calls to Action, but to date his government has completed only eight. Zero Calls to Action were implemented in 2020, which ACCM finds unacceptable.3
- Accomplish all of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Calls for Justice. In 2019, the Inquiry produced a final report that included 231 Calls for Justice to begin addressing the violence faced by Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people. Indigenous women and girls have been found to make up 16% of all female homicides, despite making up only 4% of the female population. Canada took two years to respond with a national action plan, which has been rejected by the Native Women’s Association of Canada.4
- Increase access to culturally relevant care and treatment for Indigenous peoples, including the adoption of Joyce’s Principle.5
- Comply with Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling by funding fair and equitable child and family services for First Nations, and fully implementing Jordan’s Principle. Canada has persistently fought the HRT’s 2016 ruling that the underfunding of child and family services on reserves is discriminatory.6
- End all boil water advisories in First Nations communities. The Government of Canada committed to lifting all boil water advisories on First Nations Reserves in five years. Despite this promise, there remain 52 on-reserve boil water advisories, and the government has announced that it will take an additional five years to lift them.
- ACCM also calls on CIUSSS ODIM and Batshaw Youth and Family Centres to implement all suggestions in the “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” report to address ongoing discrimination against Indigenous children.
As an organization that operates in Tiohtià:ke, on unceded Kanien’kehá:ka land, ACCM feels a responsibility to directly address Minister for Indigenous Services Marc Miller, who is Member of Parliament for Ville-Marie—Le-Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Sœurs. In his position serving Indigenous peoples and representing communities in Tiohtià:ke, Minister Miller has played a significant role in Canada’s inadequate handling of its historical and ongoing genocides of Indigenous peoples.
ACCM encourages its members and community to educate themselves on the Indian Residential School System and Canada’s ongoing colonialism. The following resources may be helpful:
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s “Calls to Action”: http://trc.ca/assets/pdf/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf
- The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ “Calls for Justice”: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Calls_for_Justice.pdf
- The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society’s Indigenous Knowledge Portal: https://fncaringsociety.com/ikp
The following resources are available for Indigenous members of our community during this challenging time:
- The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line Available to survivors free of cost at 1-866-925-4419
- KUU-US Crisis Line Society A culturally safe First Nations and Indigenous specific crisis line available 24 hours a day Adults/Elders: 1-800-588-8717 – Youth: 250-723-2040 – Online: https://www.kuu-uscrisisline.com
Finally, we encourage anyone with the means to contribute to local organizations that serve and support Indigenous people and Residential School Survivors, such as the following:
- The Indian Residential School Survivors Society: https://www.irsss.ca/
- Native Montreal: https://nativemontreal.com/
- Centre Tiohtià:ke : https://www.centretiohtiake.com
- Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal: http://www.nwsm.info/
- First Peoples Justice Centre of Montreal: https://cjppm.org/en/homeen/
- Native Friendship Center of Montreal: https://nfcm.org/en/
- Quebec Native Women: https://www.faq-qnw.org/en/
- Projets Autochtones du Québec: http://www.paqc.org/en/hometest/
- The Black Indigenous Harm Reduction Alliance (BIHRA): https://www.blackindigenousharmredux.org/
- Canadian Aboriginal Aids Network: https://caan.ca/
Julian Hughes, President Emilie Renahy, Executive Director
C.C.I. ACCM Board Members
The same letter has been sent to: The Honourable Carolyn Bennet (P.C., M.P., Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations), The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau (P.C., M.P., Prime Minister of Canada), The Honourable François Legault (M.N.A., Premier of Quebec), The Honourable Ian Lafrenière (M.N.A., Minister Responsible for Indigenous Affairs), Ms. Lynne McVey (President and CEO, Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux de l’Ouest-de-l’île-de-Montréal), Ms. Katherine Moxness (Director of the Youth Program, Batshaw Youth and Family Centres – Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux de l’Ouest- de-l’île-de-Montréal)
1 Public Health Agency of Canada. Summary: Estimates of HIV incidence, prevalence and Canada’s progression on meeting the 90-90-90 HIV targets, 2016. 2018. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/documents/services/publications/diseases- conditions/summary-estimates-hiv-incidence-prevalence-canadas-progress-90-90-90/pub-eng.pdf.
2 The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015. Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. http://www.trc.ca/assets/pdf/Honouring_the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf
3 Jewell and Mosbey, 2021, “Calls to Action Accountability: A 2020 Status Update on Reconciliation”. https://yellowheadinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/yi-trc-calls-to-action-update-full-report-2020.pdf 4 https://globalnews.ca/news/7917272/mmiwg-report-federal-government-calls-to-justice/