Former NHL player Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk to play in the league, said he was left “reeling” after learning the discovery of the remains of 215 children last week at a former residential school in Kamloops, BC.
The 38-year-old from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, who played 13 seasons in the NHL, posted an emotional letter on Twitter Friday detailing his “anger” at the findings and his personal connection to Canada’s residential school system. where approximately 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were forcibly sent and many were abused and killed.
“This week has been one of the hardest of my life. The revelations emerging from the Kamloops residential school and the expectation that the tip of the iceberg is likely to spin me around, ”Tootoo wrote.
“The word school is not exact. They were prisons for children who had been torn from their families. These places were where a nation tried to annihilate the culture of my people. “
The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission report estimated that more than 4,100 students died in government-funded and church-run schools between the years 1870 and 1997. Children suffered severe abuse when separated from their parents. families and forced to learn English and embrace Christianity in an attempt to assimilate them into the majority white culture of the country.
“I wonder how a nation can allow this to happen. Much worse, how could a nation perpetrate this action? How could a church condone, enable, and orchestrate these actions? And why wasn’t anyone talking about it? Why was no one condemning him? “Tootoo wrote.
Tootoo said he is now “understanding these atrocities for what they were” and their lasting impact on indigenous peoples like him.
“Much of my childhood came screaming back as I read these stories. I would watch my seniors bury their pain through alcohol. I didn’t understand it at the time. I’m starting to do it, ”Tootoo wrote.
“Pain lives on from generation to generation. I lost my brother to suicide. He was young. He made a mistake. His shame led him to the only answer he knew. Suicide. His story is just one more of the epidemic that plagues the indigenous peoples of our country ”.
The findings in Kamloops have sparked statements of outrage and grief across the country, including from NHL teams. There have also been growing calls for the federal government and the church to search for more burial sites in residential schools.
While Tootoo remains angered by the discovery, he takes comfort in the fact that it could spark widespread change.
“As I learn more about the pain and suffering my elders and ancestors endured, I feel angry. I feel the injustice deep down, ”he wrote.
And yet I feel hope. We are talking about that. We face it. And now, finally, the healing can begin. “
—With files from The Canadian Press