Canada

'These were 215 beautiful, innocent, trusting little spirits'

Senator Mary Jane McCallum, who went to residential school at the age of five, offers a statement following the discovery of a mass grave at the site of a former school

At the age of five, Mary Jane McCallum was taken from her Cree family in northern Manitoba and sent to the Guy Hill Residential School in the Pas, which she attended for 11 years.

A citizen of the Barren Lands First Nation in Brochet, Man., McCallum obtained her dental degree and went on to a distinguished career in the field, leading initiatives to provide dental and health care to Indigenous communities across the province. In late 2017, she was appointed to the Senate.

On Tuesday, deeply affected by news that the graves of 215 children had been found at the Kamloops Residential School in the B.C. Interior, Senator McCallum used time given her by two colleagues to deliver an emotional speech by video-conference to the red chamber, drawing on her experience as a residential school survivor.

Here is a transcript:


Thank you Mr. Chair. Thank you to Senator Rob Black and Senator [Yonah] Martin for offering me their space today.

This is an intergenerational statement. A mass grave of children—sons, daughters, siblings, grandchildren, leaders and change agents; a genocide of children who were never able to live their lives simply because they were Indian. Their connection to family, to their culture, to their hopes and dreams for their futures: all stolen.

And by whom? Does this continue today?

These were 215 beautiful, trusting little spirits who believed in their hearts that it would all work out. They missed their families and never understood how they came to be where they were. One of my most persistent emotions in residential school was overwhelming loneliness and a bewildering feeling of abandonment.

It was so unlike my family.

I came to realize that abandonment by my parents was not the issue, but that I was abandoned by the system, whether it was the church, or the government that initiated and perpetuated the kidnappings.

This is Canada. Our hearts are broken. Canada is broken.

As a child who went to residential school at the age of five, I want to send a message to the parents and all the relatives. I know you loved me. I never let you go. You were always in my thoughts, in my heart, in my tears, in my being. How could you not be?

I know you didn’t let me go, and that you loved me and carried me with you. Don’t feel guilty for what is not yours to carry. You have found me, and I am so glad you never gave up. Know that I always loved you, and still love you, as only a child could.

Remember my laughter, my spirit, my love of life, my love of stories and ceremonies. For that was always the part of you that I loved and carried close to me.

Remember to pass on the beautiful parts of our culture, because that is something they could never take away from us.

Remember we can never take away our love for each other.

Sending love and peace to the 215 innocent and trusting souls and their families; to the Kamloops First Nation; to the former students of residential schools; to our families; and to the specialists who discovered the remains.

Kinanâskomitin.

Thank you.