Quiet Canadian Racism

Shawn Horley
8 min readJun 9, 2021


Image Via Shutterstock/Copyright © 2009 Bruce Raynor

Some of the ugly truth peeked out from under Canada’s rug last week, with the ‘discovery’ of the remains of 215 children in a mass grave related to the Indigenous Residential School in Kamloops, BC, Canada…

My Home Town

This hit me hard when I saw the story break. The sorrow I’m feeling competes with the anger, disgust, and shame. I was already angry, ashamed, and disgusted with the treatment of the First Nations peoples.

Not only in Canada, but all other colonised nations. I don’t know if the Americans ever tried the Residential Schools approach to cultural genocide, but they had their Wounded Knee, and the Trail of Tears, so… you know.

But Canada did, and the thing about Canada that you all have to understand is that, as polite of a society as we are perceived to be, we are still just people in the end. Just as ignorant, close minded, xenophobic, and bigoted as our southern neighbour. We just tend to behave ourselves better when we’re abroad on vacation. Canada is just as racist as the USA is, we’re just quieter about it.

You know, that whole ‘keeping up appearances’ crap that we inherited from the colonial powers that got this place up and running.

I remember having a conversation about racism with folks that I had met from the US. Yes, they were from a state that rarely sees snow, but I’m not judging. They had shown surprise that we had racism issues in Canada, because they didn’t think that there were that many black folks living in Canada…

My reaction to that statement was to slowly tilt my head to the side in ‘that way’ and pause before responding that Indeed, traditionally it’s true that there was not a large black population in Canada overall, and the majority of it lay more towards the east of Canada. But with immigration, especially in the last twenty years the population seems to be increasing, and that can only be to the good.

Upon hearing that last sentence It became their turn to look confusedly at me. I went back to the topic of discussion and explained that the racism was more towards the First Nations Peoples and the Asian immigrants as well as Canadians of Asian ancestry.

They had to ask: “First Nations Peoples?”

“The Indigenous people of this land.” I respond, awaiting the inevitable follow-up for clarification, and they do not disappoint.(well they do, but not in that way… y’know what never mind”

“You mean Injuns?” and yes, he actually pronounced it that way, and I was done with my Canadian politeness.

I have a bad habit when I am annoyed, of well, the only way to say it is ‘Going South’ on someone. I lift the volume a little bit and the drawl comes out. I don’t know why I started doing it, and I don’t remember when. I can say that me ‘going south’ on someone from the south has happened on exactly two occasions, and one of them was in mutual good humour. This isn’t that one.

“No, I don’t mean Injuns, or any other racist slang you decide to use. I mean First, Nations, People, as in the First Nations to live on this land. They’ve been here for Tens of Thousands of Years… and They are still here despite the ‘White Man’s’ continuing attempts to wipe them out.”

I remember there wasn’t much more to talk about after that.

So yes, Canada is a racist country. It has a shameful history of systemic racism towards the First Nations Peoples that continues to this day. The truth of the Residential Schools system is that in their arrogance and ignorance, the Government of Canada sponsored this program, administered by the Churches to assimilate the Indigenous peoples to the decidedly Euro-Canadian way of life.

Families were forced, by law, to surrender their children to these schools. I say surrender because if the children didn’t go willingly, the police would come and take them. We’re talking children as young as 3 being taken from their parents, their people. Being taught a history that is not their own. Being beaten if they speak their own language… I want you all to think about that one for a moment.

Seems pretty bad, right? It’s actually downright evil, and here’s why. In the 1830’s when this program started, how many of those kids do you think arrived at those schools knowing any english? If you said zero you would likely be right. All they know is their own language, but the only way they are allowed to speak is in English, which they don’t know, and that means that until they learn enough english to have a conversation the kids can’t even talk to each other without being beaten for it.

You remember where I pointed out that the schools were run by the Church right? Once again, an Abrahamic religion with a penchant for Genocide of another people, or at least Cultural Genocide. At least you used to be able to say that it was only Cultural Genocide… only!

But a mass grave of children tells another part of the story. One that, at the very least, shows the Church apparently not having an issue covering it up. Nor the Government. An unmarked mass grave? That’s the legacy of Pol Pot, Stalin, Nazi’s, and now we can add the Catholic Church to that list… how nice.

What were their parents told? Did the priests and nuns even take the time to make up lies? of the over 6000 children that died at those schools, (Records are… incomplete) how many of those are the occupants of this mass grave? or as is more likely, these are just some of of the nameless, faceless dead.

Except that they had names, and faces. Parents who loved them, aunts, uncles, and cousins. A Band that missed them, and mourned them. A people that grieved.

That’s why White Canada is so quiet about this subject. It doesn’t go well with Sanka and Coffee Cakes. Or polite apologists who made a nifty arm for NASA.

It’s why those of us that aren’t racist despise those that are. Well okay, maybe I’m projecting a little with that statement. Yes I despise racists. My prejudice is against prejudiced people, and I acknowledge that fact. I am also working on that, because I don’t want to be that guy either. I’m feeling a bit amped up about this news though because I have a personal connection to that school, and that mass grave that goes beyond them just being in my home town. That school was where I first encountered racism.

The school me and all my little buddies were supposed to start going to, called Stuart Wood, had a fire.

Stuart Wood School copyright Susangayebell via CreativeCommons.org

Nice looking place hey?

Well, what with there being no classrooms for us while the school was repaired, and the school they’re building back in our neighbourhood not being done yet. We got placed at the Residential School on the land of what was then called the Kamloops Indian Band (they have since taken back their own name: Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, and rightly so)

I was only 5 at the time, and my memories of that time are few. Most of them are to do with being at that school. I remember being out watching all these other kids that were playing. For the most part, they were bigger and older than I was and they ignored me, except for the kid I bumped into. He turned, saw me stared at me for a moment. I said Hi and he said “go away anglo” and gave me a push. I remember not understanding why he was so angry, I hadn’t meant to bump him, and it wasn’t that hard…

What does Anglo mean?

I had to wait until I got home and ask my mom before she explained it to me. In retrospect, I imagine it pained her to have to have this conversation with her 5 year old son. Because she had to explain it in a way I could understand. She explained that the Natives were the first people to live in this land, and they were treated very badly by the White people.

So my first racist term wasn’t Honkey, or Cracker. It was Anglo, as in Anglo Saxon. I felt very bad for the Native People, and how they were treated. I always tried to treat them with the same respect and courtesy that I want to receive.

It’s not the Kid who was racist by the way. Him calling me Anglo wasn’t racist at all. It was the inevitable response to racism by the oppressed people against whom those ideologies and behaviour are focused.

The racism of the Government of Canada, the Christian Church, and the White Majority Society thrown back at me, a visible representative of those that have committed such crimes against them.

Turns out that I had that encounter because I was not where I was supposed to be. You see we, the public school white kids, were not placed in the same parts of the school as the native children. We were put in the newest building, and were supposed to be kept separate from them as we were a “separate school”, but I have to wonder if that was the only reason?

When I learned the truth about the residential schools, why they came to be, and what really happened, so many years later, I saw that kid’s face again, and wondered if he managed to avoid the trauma? did he make it back to his family?

I don’t even know his name, but I’ll never stop hoping that he made out alright. But for the thousands of children that didn’t. That lived with the traumas of the various abuses they suffered. And for those thousands of children that didn’t survive? I am sorry.

From the bottom of my soul, I am sorry that these things were done to you and your families. I am sorry for all that was ripped away from you. For the crimes that were inflicted in part upon all of the Indigenous People.

To the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation, People, Living and Gone Onwards. I apologise. I am sorry for what I did not do earlier, and for being afraid to do later. And this last part of which I am most ashamed.

For when I did not understand it, as a child? That is one thing.

But to know, and do nothing? That is very much another. It smacks of Cowardice… Thus the shame.

I should have stood up Long before now to add my voice to the growing choir saying: We Reject Racism in All Forms, From those of The Past To those Yet to Come.

And I do.

But I didn’t when I should have, and for that I am sorry.



Shawn Horley

If I don’t write it down I’ll probably just explode.