The Massive Scale of 150,000 Lives

Residential school group in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1908.
Public Domain.

This week, Canada's National Truth and Reconciliation Commission did a very important thing.

A red ceremonial cloth was made with the names of all the Indigenous children who died in our residential school system. There are about 150,000 names.

In a sense, a name doesn't mean much--it's just a few words that were chosen so that we would know if someone was talking to us about us and it can change at any time.

In another sense, however, names are incredibly significant. Our identities often become wrapped up in our names. Changing a name is a big deal. A name is a tiny little marker of a whole entire human life, and that life is intertwined with many other lives. A name is a doorway to someone's whole world.

The Globe and Mail published the entire list of names online. I highly recommend reading the whole list--especially if you are Canadian. It's long. It will take some time.

As I discussed this morning about spiritual practices, reading a list of 150,000 children who were killed is something that you can think about and talk about but it doesn't mean much until you actually do it, paying attention to what happens in your heart, mind, spirit, and body in the process.

Here are a few things I noticed while I went through the names:

Very quickly, I realized I was still scrolling through the A's and it already felt like I had been going for a while. The scale of the loss began to settle into my chest.

I noticed that most of the names were clearly colonial impositions. The number of Adams, Agneses, and Josephs was almost surprising. I wondered what their names were before this, or what they would have been had their parents been free to name them as they wished.

I also noticed that these children had a lot of names that are currently very trendy. That felt odd.

Some of the names seemed like racist jokes. The cruelty of an adult sitting in front of a child and giving them an English name that you know will humiliate them is astounding, all on its own.

One girl was only identified as Indian Girl No. 237. Even after all the work that went into this inquiry to identify the children who died, this girl's name will always be lost because no one cared to even write it down once.

Every single one of these people could have grown up and had a family of their own. How many lives were ultimately lost by killing all these children? Who would they have been ancestors to? What stories would they have passed down?

Every single one of these people had parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

The reverberating impact of this loss cannot be underestimated.

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