Former NHLer Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk to play in the league, says he was left “reeling” after learning about last week’s discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
The 38-year-old from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut — who played 13 seasons in the NHL — posted an emotional letter to Twitter on Friday in which he detailed his “rage” over the findings and his personal connection to Canada’s residential school system, where roughly 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were forcibly sent and where many suffered abuse and died.
“This week has been one of the toughest of my life. The revelations emerging from the Kamloops residential school and the expectation that it is likely the tip of the iceberg has me reeling,” wrote Tootoo.
“The word, school, is not accurate. These were prisons for children who had been ripped from their families. These places were where a nation attempted to annihilate the culture of my people.”
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report estimated that more than 4,100 students died at the government-funded, church-run schools between the 1870s and 1997. Children suffered harsh mistreatment as they were removed from their families, and forced to learn English and embrace Christianity in an attempt to assimilate them into the country’s majority-white culture.
“I ask myself how could a nation 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 was no one talking about it? Why was no one condemning it?” Tootoo wrote.
Tootoo said that he is just now “understanding these atrocities for what they were” and their lasting impact on Indigenous people like himself.
“So much of my childhood came screaming back to me as I read these stories. I would see my elders bury their hurt through alcohol. I didn’t understand it at the time. I am starting to,” wrote Tootoo.
“The pain lives through generations. 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 people in our country.”
The findings in Kamloops have prompted statements of outrage and grief across the country, including from NHL teams. There have also been growing calls for the federal government and church to search for more residential school burial sites.
While Tootoo remains angered by the discovery, he takes solace in the fact that it could spark widespread change.
“As I learn more about the pain and suffering that was inflicted on my elders and my ancestors, I feel rage. I feel the injustice to my core,” he wrote.
“And, yet, I feel hope. We are talking about it. We are confront it. And now, finally, healing can begin.”
—With files from The Canadian Press