Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace


Posted by strattof on May 11, 2017

Kent Monkman’s The Scream is part of an exhibition of paintings Monkman created especially for Canada’s 150th birthday. A brightly-coloured painting, it shows what the last 150 years have meant for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

  • In the foreground, terrified Indigenous children are being wrenched from the arms of their distraught mothers by red-clad Mounties and black-robed priests and nuns: agents of the Canadian state.
  • In the background, three children are running for the woods, escaping the gaze of a Mountie standing on a porch directing the operation.
  • The children are wearing clothes of today, indicating that the mass abduction of Indigenous children from their families and communities by the Canadian state is ongoing.
  • Black clouds hang ominously over the left hand side of the scene. The sky brightens on the right—the direction the children are heading.

This is what the last 150 years have meant for Indigenous peoples in Canada: colonization, broken treaties, genocide, and resistance.


The abduction of Indigenous children is a thread that runs through Canadian history, though it is usually hidden. Why bring up this inconvenient truth when we are supposed to be celebrating?

We need to know this history because nothing has changed. The abduction of Indigenous children is still going on.


Many Treaties with First Nations, including Treaty 4 which takes in most of southern Saskatchewan, promised to establish schools on reserves. Instead, the Canadian government implemented the residential school system.

  • John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, was a passionate advocate for residential schools. In his view “Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence,” for if they stay on the reserve they are “surrounded by savages.”
  • Established shortly after Confederation, Canada’s residential school system lasted for over a century—until 1996 when the last residential school, Gordon’s School in Punnichy SK, closed.
  • More than 150,000 children attended the schools. Many of them, along with their parents, endured the brutality of forced separation.
  • At least 6,000 children died at the schools from malnutrition, disease, and abuse ‒ a higher death rate than that of Canadians who enlisted to fight in World War II. Many of the children were buried unceremoniously in unmarked graves.
  • In the words of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the residential school system was “an integral part of a conscious policy of cultural genocide.”


The genocidal policy of abducting Indigenous children from their families did not end with the residential school system. Rather, it carried on under a difference guise. Indeed, it carries on today.

THE 60s SCOOP: EARLY 1960s – MID 1980s

In the 1950s, the federal government started to close residential schools, deemed too costly even though they were grossly underfunded. In the early 1960s, provincial social workers, authorized by the federal government and following on the heels of the Mounties and priests, began to descend on Indigenous communities and to “scoop up” the children, including newborns. The children were then placed in foster care or adopted out mainly to white families in Canada, the US, and Europe.

  • An estimated 20,000 Indigenous children were scooped.
  • The number of Indigenous children in care skyrocketed.
  • Some children experienced physical and psychological abuse from their adoptive families.
  • Incalculable damage was inflicted on all the victims of this government policy, including loss of family, loss of language, and loss of culture.


The federal government continues to underfund education and child welfare on First Nations. Provincial social workers continue to abduct Indigenous children from their families.

  • First Nations children on reserves receive 33% – 50% less funding than a child in a provincial school.
  • There is, in addition, 22% less funding for First Nations child welfare services.
  • Today, there are more Indigenous children in government care than there were at the height of the residential school system.



  • Visit online Kent Monkman’s exhibition Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience.
  • The Canada 150 art featured in this pamphlet is the work of Chippewar, also known as Jay Soule. He calls on us to “stickerbomb Canada” with his Canada 150 stickers:
  • Watch Gord Downie’s The Secret Path:
  • Visit the Alex Janvier exhibition at the Mackenzie Art Gallery, opening May 20.


Available at Regina Public Library:

  • Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King
  • Clearing the Plains, by James Daschuk
  • Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call, by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson
  • Children of the Broken Treaty, by Charlie Angus

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