Some 215 Children Found Buried
I was a very green lawyer when Rene Buswa called me out of the blue, 30 years ago. I still don’t know how he got my name but I listened to his story. I then met with him at his home just north of Manitoulin Island. Rene was later joined by Isador and then scores of others.
All were from First Nations scattered around the north shore of Georgian Bay. They had one thing in common – as children they had been plucked from their homes and placed in the Spanish (“Garnier”) residential school.
Their stories were the most tragic I have heard in my years of practice. Trapping and fishing with your grandfather one day, the next day fenced in some remote boarding school.
An elderly woman from Cape Croker told me the most intense memory she had was of stones biting into her knees. She was four years of age. The Indian Agent had come to take her siblings to school and it was thought convenient if the Agent would scoop her as well. Her father had the children kneel on the gravel driveway and he uttered a long prayer for their well being.
She next saw her father ten years later, when he could afford to hitch a ride up. At the school, she looked most to Sunday afternoons, when she was permitted to see her brothers, touching hands through a fence.
My clients told me stories of unmarked graves, of children who died and were not accounted for. I thought this likely the product of children’s imaginings.
Fast forward to last week, when we read that at one such school in B.C. some 215 children’s remains have been found in the yard. Most of the graves were unmarked. Clearly, the children knew things that others could not even imagine.
Our firm was one of the very first to litigate over residential schools in Canada. We were the very first in Ontario to engage in a mass settlement of survivors’ claims for those who attended Spanish. I count the work we did with all these survivors as among the best and most meaningful days for our firm.
We continue to honour their courage.