Indigenous lady’s household trauma reveals why mass abuse did not simply come from ‘just a few racist politicians’

Tori Cress, co-founder of Idle No More-Ontario, with her mother and son Marty in Garden River First Nation, near Sault Ste. Marie. They traveled across the country to assist Kanahu Manuel on the year-long anniversary of the Mount Polley mine disaster and were part of a direct action that disrupted the mine with a blockade at the workers entrance.

It was only recently that Tori Cress accidentally found documents that prove what she had known for a long time: that her mother was forced to attend a day school in her youth, where she experienced abuse from which she has recovered again and again today.

Until then, Cress, an Anishnaabe and Pottawatome Kwe from Beausoleil First Nation and co-founder of Idle No More-Ontario, had been struggling with feelings of “anger and anger” after hearing the devastating news of 215 Indigenous children – some of them still so young than three years old – found in a mass grave in a former dormitory. At the end of May, the First Nation of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced the find at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia during an investigation of the site, according to a CBC report.

Unable to endure the myriad of stories people told of parents who fell victim to Canada’s Indian Residential School system and the ongoing trauma that went with it, Cress stayed away from social media.

“This is not a story. Now it’s modern child protection laws. The harm to indigenous children has only changed (through) politics. The damage is still there. You haven’t gone anywhere. “– Tori Cress, Anishnaabe and Pottawatome Kwe First Nations member

But on the day on which she found her mother’s name in the school attendance files – “in black and white” – something clicked, next to it was a note: “Disciplined”. Cress says she overcame her anger when she began to put a lot of things into perspective about her “estranged” mother.

“What they call discipline … I know is abuse,” she said.

“All of these things in my life made sense to me and the trauma that (my mother) grew up in. She was born into grief and trauma and grief, just like me and just like her mother. “

According to a University of British Columbia study, “Indian Day Schools, like residential schools, were places (where) students experienced many types of abuse, including but not limited to physical, verbal, and sexual.” The main difference was that they were at night returned to their homes and communities. A Queen’s University Gazette review of a historical biography entitled Spirit of the Grassroots People: Seeking Justice for Indigenous Survivors of Canada’s Colonial Education System estimates that 200,000 Indigenous children were forced into these schools from “the mid-19th century to 2000” “were.

The story goes on

The Kamloops boarding school, in which the children were found, was in operation until 1969, when it was taken over by the Federation of the Catholic Church and converted into a day school until 1978.

Tori Cress, co-founder of Idle No More-Ontario, with her mother at an Idle No More event at the Kozlov Mall in Barrie.  Tori's mother started taking her to rallies during the so-called Oka Crisis when Tori was 12 and 13 years old.

Tori Cress, co-founder of Idle No More-Ontario, with her mother at an Idle No More event at the Kozlov Mall in Barrie. Tori’s mother started taking her to rallies during the so-called Oka Crisis when Tori was 12 and 13 years old.

Cress says she and her brother are the first generation in their family to not go to dorms, day schools, or be picked up by the ’60s Scoop or the modern Child Support Services (CSS) orphan system.

“So this so-called dark chapter is not a chapter,” said Cress, referring to people’s reactions to the news of the 215 children found. “Canada’s pride in its history is (the) foundation of the ongoing genocide that still exists today.”

Residential schools were not just the product of “some racist politicians”

People don’t have to be “a dedicated journalist or historian of Canada or colonialism or imperialism” to understand these historical truths, says Cecilia Morgan, a history professor at the University of Toronto. You just have to pay attention to what indigenous peoples have been saying “for a long time”.

Much of this has been well documented in in-depth reports, including the Truth and Reconciliation Report (TRC), the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report (MMIWG), the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) report, and the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples (UNDRIP).

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation estimates that more than 150,000 children were forced into boarding schools. And the TRC itself had already asked for $ 1.5 million in 2009 to uncover more mass graves, which Stephen Harper’s federal government refused to do.

Morgan says with all of this information available, the decision not to know was made out of “privilege.”

“For a number of Canadians whose lives were not directly affected by this, they were privileged enough not to know these things,” Morgan said in a telephone interview.

This is part of … how colonialism and imperialism work: structures of knowledge can be shaped …. I hope that only an informed citizen realizes that although you have not directly dealt with it in your own life, it does. is the context in which you live and in which this country developed.Cecilia Morgan, Professor of History, University of Toronto

Science is not free from this privilege of ignoring the bigger picture.

According to Morgan, many undergraduate and graduate students are well aware of “the history of boarding schools.” However, there remains a strong general tendency for many to dismiss it as a “terrible aberration” rather than see it as part of a “larger pattern of structural and systemic colonialism and racism in our history”.

Since she imagines boarding schools as “the product of some racist politicians”, she misses the forest for the trees.

“It’s good that people are questioning (John A.) MacDonald’s legacy,” she said, referring to the ongoing movement to remove statues of controversial colonial figures, including Canada’s first prime minister.

“But seeing everything in such a way that it comes from a person does not take into account the fact that there are larger structures and processes that have been put in place to expropriate people.”

Canadians do not want to disturb the “multicultural” image

When Cress co-founded Idle No More-Ontario on December 21, 2012, it was “one of the strongest moments of unity” she has experienced, she said. More than 5,000 indigenous peoples and allies marched together that day to support Theresa Spence, former leader of the Attawapiskat First Nation, who fasted to demand action against the poverty and food insecurity of many indigenous peoples.

But nine years later, while support (allies) has risen sharply, as Cress says, indigenous peoples continue to demand the same basic rights and fight to protect their lands and comply with treaties.

Professor Morgan says she hopes the 215 children’s bodies found at the mass grave could awaken the public out of complacency and privilege by helping to defend the “links between schools, the deaths of these children and the need for indigenous people to defend their lands.” to manufacture. to defend their territory, to have control over their own destiny and their communities. “

“You need to know the history of the treaties, a story that goes back further than boarding school … (which) indicates individual agency (and) activism,” she said.

“But it depends on what … the next cycle of messages is.”

Cress says the only way for these children’s deaths to make real change is for Canadians to “lean into their discomfort” to know the history of Canada and the ongoing effects of settler colonialism.

Willful ignorance, she says, is no excuse.

“The Canadians chose not to know. You don’t want to disturb this image of Canadians being multicultural, encompassing all cultures and races, because it’s just not true … (But) that’s what we have to do: lean on it to learn from it. ”– Tori Cress, co-founder of Idle No More-Ontario

“Stop extracting resources, get our children out of unmarked graves”

After publicly expressing sadness and heartache over the news just days after the Kamloops, BC announcement, Federal Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised “concrete action”. He promised that “we would have many, many discussions in the days and weeks ahead about how we can best support these communities and come to the truth.”

Schools and buildings also fly flags at half-mast, and there are candlelight vigils. The government has also set up a National Indian Residential School Crisis Line that people can call through, and over 220,000 people are calling on the government to declare a national day of mourning, according to a petition on

But after being on the front lines all along, Cress sees it all as “showmanship, not action”. The talks and discussions have been held, reports have been drawn up and calls for action have been issued, she says.

What is needed is action.

“And that’s the equivalent of dollars. That corresponds to resources. Stop … extracting our resources and get our children out of their unmarked graves. This is the healing we need, ”she said.

“We don’t need pipelines or mining projects. We need to calm our children in their communities where they were stolen. “Tori Cress, Co-Founder of Idle No More-Ontario

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