By Fr. Bill Bernard, C.Ss.R.
At our last zoom meeting to prepare for the General Chapter, some of the members of our small group asked me about the reaction at Elsipogtog to the news that about 215 unmarked graves of children had been discovered at the former Kamloops Residential School. The picture here gives a partial answer to that question.
On Saturday evening, someone in the community put out a collection of children’s shoes by the shrine of St. Anne in front of the church. Since that first day, a couple of teddy bears, a number of solar panel night lights and more shoes showed up there. This has been the only reaction to the news.
What other reaction has there been? Our parish secretary has told me a couple of times that she keeps thinking about those children, and tears come sometimes to her eyes. On Monday at our Mass in Indian Island (a much smaller reserve we serve) a woman got up after communion and asked if she could make an announcement. In emotional tones, she just drew our attention to the news that I’m sure all of us had already heard. The real message, of course, was that she had to speak out the feelings that were torturing her. I know too that the news is the subject of a lot of conversations on the reserve. Indigenous people love their children. It’s hard for them to imagine anyone doing such harm to little ones.
I expected I’d hear sharp words from some about the Church and its part in this. But I haven’t heard a word yet. I have not seen a single gesture of disdain these last days for us priests here or for the Church. What would have been the reaction in white society if 215 unmarked graves of white children had been discovered beside a boarding school run by priests and Sisters?
It gives us something to think about – I mean the difference between white and indigenous ways.