Unmarked graves and burials: a settler’s response

An acquaintance of mine said that, on the prairies, many families could not afford burial and therefore buried families in unmarked graves. I had to take time to think through my response in order to craft it carefully and respectfully. Here it is.

I don’t deny that many families, at various times in our history, were destitute and couldn’t afford to wish their loved ones the final goodbye and sendoff into the Ever After they deserve. However, there is, in my opinion, a very distinct difference—one we shouldn’t understate.

These families were nevertheless aware, I’m assuming, of their loved ones’ final resting place, undoubtedly helped shape the tone of the burial, and got to say goodbye. These dignities were NOT afforded the First Nations, Métis, and Indigenous (FNMI) families whose children were scooped, seized, taken away.

In my work with cultural and health organizations, I heard a number of harrowing accounts of these indignities and of the intergenerational trauma of FNMI people.

Some died as a result of abuse: being pushed over a stair railing or shoved down a flight of stairs. Others were beaten & LATER succumbed to complications of their injuries. Still others died of exposure, drowning, other causes when trying to flee. Let’s not lose sight of that.

This, in our minds, may not align with the legal definition of “murder”, but make no mistake: there was clear intent, malice, premeditation, calculation, and unimaginable cruelty. To think otherwise is, if I may dare to say so, naive and misguided.

It’s utterly disgraceful that our response, many times, is to want to deny these oral and written histories, to speak over FNMI voices. It is their trauma. Their experience. It is our time, as settlers and colonizers, to amplify their voices while we remain silent. Out of respect.

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