How do we teach our little ones about the finding of the undocumented graves of 215 precious children who died at a Residential School in Kamloops? How do we explain why we are wearing our orange shirts? These were questions I asked myself before teaching my Kindergarteners today, on May 31st, 2021. Although I am teaching on Zoom, I asked them to wear their orange shirts and I wanted to explain why. Over the weekend my Facebook feed from all my friends and family was filled with anger, pain, sorrow, and more anger at not only the uncovering of this mass grave, but also at the reaction of non-Indigenous allies and friends who are now horrified that this happened. Anger that after all these years of survivors telling their stories, it seems only now with "proof" non-indigenous people are only now starting to understand that these are not stories, but truths of what actually happened at Residential Schools. Pain and sorrow for the loss of those children, and sadness knowing that their parents, siblings, relations never had closure to mourn these young souls.
So now I am filled with emotion as I look at my little children in my Kindergarten class and think, "How could anyone let this happen?" I think about what I can tell them. Here is what I brainstormed, and started to discuss with my Kindergarteners today. I was a bit emotional so, I might have rushed through it, however I do plan on discussing this every day this week within this context:
1. Residential Schools and promises. The promise within the Treaties was that First Nations would share the land and resources, and the Crown (government) would provide good education and medicine so that First Nations children would learn new things and would stay healthy. The government broke this promise by not providing safe and good education, and withheld medicine. How do you feel when someone breaks a promise? How does it feel when someone you love gets hurt or sick?
2. Numbers: a lot or few? 215... is it a big number or small number? It is a big number. Is it a lot or a few? It is a lot! Thousands of children died while attending Residential Schools in Canada. You can count throughout the week up to 215, make 21 chain links of 10's to 100 and 1 of 5. You can do a lot of math counting activity to understand this number. I pointed out to my class that even 1 was 1 child too many to die at school.
3. At the Residential schools, many children got sick and were not given medicine. When they were sick, they were not sent home to be with their loving families. Some children died from a disease called Tuberculosis. We are in a pandemic where there is a virus called Covid. What do we do to keep safe and healthy? If we are sick should we go to school? Who takes care of you when you are not feeling well? The children at the Residential Schools were not allowed to go home. Sickness spread to many children and no one was caring for them properly.
4. We wear orange to remember and to continue telling the truth about the Residential schools and broken promises.
5. What else can we do to remember? I showed the picture of the Legislature where people were placing children's shoes on the steps of the government building, as well as dolls and teddy bears. At school we will be placing orange ribbons where we can write a message on the ribbons and tie to the school fence.