Grieving the Children: Helping Kids Navigate the Residential Schools Tragedy

Grief has changed Canada’s birthday. 

Like the sudden passing of a loved one before a long-awaited family gathering, confusing emotions are the unwelcome guests at this year’s Canada Day parades, picnics, and festivals. In response to the discovery of unmarked graves of Indigenous children in Kamloops, Cranbrook, Brandon, and Saskatchewan, some municipalities canceled their Canada Day celebrations.

I struggle with how to respond to these heart-wrenching discoveries. If adults are disoriented, what about our children and grandkids? As you answer their questions, consider the following:

Three fundamental messages

It’s okay to be sad. Tell your children it is normal. It honours God to be sad for the families of our Indigenous neighbours. Not being sad is a more concerning response. Jesus wept for Jerusalem and the death of its children. Paul tells us to weep with those who weep. As more revelations present a fuller picture across Canada, your tears and those of your children show compassion and courage.

It’s okay to be involved. Children learn by doing. If your family does not know an Indigenous family impacted by residential schools, you can still show support and teach your children. Tell the story of the first orange shirt. When you see an orange shirt, pray for hurting families to know God’s peace, comfort, and love.

It’s okay to be hopeful. Jesus wept for Jerusalem’s impending disaster with these words, “Would that you had known on this day the things that make for peace!” Days later He stood in the gap between a sinful, broken world and a holy, loving God. Such is reconciliation: God empowering us to be truly reconciled with Himself and each other. It is okay to remind your children during these sad days that Jesus mends broken hearts, beginning with ours, so we can introduce Jesus to other broken hearts. 

Honesty is always in season. However, what is happening to our Indigenous friends calls for an extra measure of honesty—sadness, involvement, and hope. It is not only worth it, it is essential.

Also on The Hope Blog

A Lament for the Lost: In the wake of the terrible discovery of 215 children buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, we lament a wound “as deep as the sea.”

For Further Discussion

215: A Lament” (original song by Brian Doerksen and Cheryl Bear)

Listen and Lament” (Evergreen Church (ON Conference of MB Churches) – Indigenous Christians share their thoughts and stories during an evening of conversation; only available until July 5.)


Bill McCaskell is the national director for One Hope Canada.

One Hope Canada

Sharing the love of Jesus with children and youth through Bible camps, community ministries, digital ministry, and training resources.