World Children’s Day was established on November 20th, 1954, to promote international togetherness, awareness, and improve children’s welfare. November 20th also marks the day the UN General Assembly adopted both the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). The convention sets out several children’s rights, including the right to live, to health, to education, family life, to be protected from violence and discrimination. It also states that governments oversee ensuring that children’s rights are respected (Government of Canada, 2021/11/05). Almost every country in the world signed the Convention, making it the most universally accepted human rights treaty in history. While Canada signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, the last Indian residential school in Canada closed in 1997.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Canadian Indian Residential School System
The Canadian Indian Residential school system was a network of 139 boarding schools for Indigenous children, funded by the Canadian government and administered by the Church. It was created to forcibly assimilate First Nation, Inuit and Métis children into mainstream white Canadian society and directly violated their rights to family, protection from violence, discrimination and other human rights afforded to non-Indigenous children in Canada.
“The system forcibly separated children from their families for extended periods of time and forbade them to acknowledge their Indigenous heritage and culture or to speak their own languages. Children were severely punished if these, among other, strict rules were broken.”
- The Residential School System. Indigenous Foundations. First Nations and Indigenous Studies UBC, 2020.
It is estimated that 150,000 Indigenous Children attended residential school between 1831 and 1997. In 2015, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission described the physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse suffered by the children in residential schools as cultural genocide.
On May 27, 2021, the unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children were found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia using ground-penetrating radar. The discovery triggered trauma and shock as in the months that followed, the remains of over 1000 children were found at other former residential school locations. The latest estimation of found graves as of the publication of this article is 6,509. However, because searches continue to be conducted at multiple sites, getting an accurate number is challenging. It is likely that the current tally is conservative. The discoveries, while traumatic, did not come as a shock to Indigenous peoples.
“For many Canadians and for people around the world, these recent recoveries of our children — buried nameless, unmarked, lost and without ceremony are shocking, and unbelievable. Not for us, we’ve always known”
- RoseAnne Archibald, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations
Every Child Matters – Truth before Reconciliation
On September 30th, 2021, Canada observed the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to commemorate the missing and murdered children from residential schools and honor the healing journey of residential school survivors.
There is finally national acknowledgement that Canada's dark period of genocide has had long-term impacts for Indigenous communities in Canada. In addition to the trauma endured by the children who attended residential schools and the families and communities they were stolen from, generations of culture, language and traditional knowledge has been lost.
Today, on the 33rd anniversary of World’s Children Day, we mourn the children whose rights were not protected by the Canadian government. We call upon all Canadians to stand in solidarity with our Indigenous communities to learn the truth about the past, and understand its implications in the present, so that together we can move towards a future where Every Child Matters and all children are protected by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
(Image used with permission by artist Natasha Root)
Reconciliation Through Education Continue educating yourself, your family, your friends, and your colleagues about residential schools and Canada’s history. Canada’s History offers a free educational package, produced in collaboration with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. The magazine is written by Monique Gray Smith and based on the Seven Sacred Teachings, aimed at students in grades 5-12 and available in English and French.
Xyntax hopes you will join us in continuing to create a better future for every child, in Canada and throughout the world, with open minds, open hearts, and meaningful action.