Kamloops residential school memorial outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh territory. (Photo: GoToVan / Flickr)
Content warning: residential schools
The heartbreaking news of the discoveries of unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada, including the bodies of 215 children being discovered on the grounds of Kamloops Indian Residential School, is a sickening reminder of the impacts of colonialism and the legacy of ongoing pain and trauma for Indigenous families and communities.
Sadly, these children’s deaths were not an isolated incident. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has identified more than 4,100 children across Canada who were sent to residential schools and never returned. This number is widely known by Indigenous communities to be an under-estimate.
For those of us who have benefited from colonial systems, we must all understand the full truths of our past and act on this knowledge to create a better today. We have a shared responsibility to listen to survivors and treat their stories with care, to denounce these acts of genocide, and to demand justice and restitution from our governments and take other actions.
The team of the BC Freshwater Legacy Initiative is committed to listening and learning from Indigenous peoples. We recognize we are at the beginning of our reconciliation journey and humbly acknowledge that we have much to learn.
As we listen to Indigenous leaders we hear the need for healing, and that this can only come with truth. We call on governments and elected leaders to support Indigenous communities in undertaking full investigations and searches of burial grounds at these residential school areas so that the missing children can be identified and returned home.
We also hear the need for action. No words can right the wrongs of these terrible acts but while these deaths happened in the past, our laws and systems continue to perpetuate policies designed to strip Indigenous peoples’ connection to their lands, waters, languages, and cultures. Working with our Indigenous partners, our team is committed to taking action to disrupt and change these systems and to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Tim and Jennifer
Resources for Indigenous people:
National Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866 925-4419
KUU-US Crisis Line Society: 1-800-588-8717
Resources to learn, offer support, and take action:
Refresh your understanding of the Truth and Reconciliation Report and Calls to Action.
Learn about the locations of residential schools (CBC).
Make a contribution to the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society, or a local Indigenous organization offering support services.
Learn and take action through the On Canada Project.
Provide the time and space that is needed for Indigenous staff and volunteers, or friends and families to process this painful discovery.
Commit to learning and action on decolonizing policies and practice