The following is a reflection from multiple staff members as we processed the news from Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and looked for concrete actions that we and our community can take. Please note that the following contains material some may find triggering in regards to residential schools in Canada.
Indigenous History Month began just a few days after the bodies of 215 children were found in an unmarked grave on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. On Monday, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, called for this horrific finding to be a “catalyst” for further work uncovering these graves at the sites of residential schools throughout the country.
On behalf of her band, Chief Rosanna Casimir of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation is encouraging everyone to take part in a National Day of Prayer today (June 6). With a similar intention, Idle No More Toronto and Porcupine Warriors have organized the Bring Our Children Home March and ceremonial event happening today at Queen’s Park in Toronto at 2 p.m E.T. Today is a day to reflect on this unthinkable loss and honour the 215 children who have been found, as well as the countless more who are still missing.
The first step towards reconciliation must be truth, and so listening to the words of survivors* of the Kamloops residential school, and the system as a whole, is paramount. (*Warning: This story contains disturbing details about the Kamloops residential school. The National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.)
Those of us who are settlers must recognize that as much as this discovery at Kamloops is tragic, it is not surprising: “We know there are a lot of sites like Kamloops that are going to come to light in the future,” said Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
We must also recognize that calls for justice are not new. Indigenous peoples have been speaking out since the schools’ inception. In 1907, the first Chief Medical Officer of the Interior, Dr. P.H. Bryce, wrote a report demanding a major overhaul of the system of residential schools, only to be ignored by the Canadian government, and later pushed out from public service. In 1922, he wrote a book, The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal to Justice to the Indians of Canada, detailing clear evidence of the government’s role in creating and maintaining the system of oppression, as well as their attempts to silence him.
When tragedy surfaces, there can be a tendency to assume we need to create more solutions, that a problem persists out of an absence of ideas. Such assumptions can be a way of intellectualizing atrocity and problem-solving our way out of discomfort. Indigenous communities have been recommending solutions, providing answers, and lighting a path for reconciliation for a very long time. The problem persists, not out of a lack of policy analysis or studies or community processes; it persists due to government inaction and public indifference.
Yellowhead Institute’s 2020 status update on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission paints a grave picture of our unfolding legacy: “In 2019, we noted that at the rate of 2.25 calls completed each year, we could only hope to see substantial change over nearly four decades (we projected the completion of Calls to Action to be in 2057). Unfortunately, with the regression of this year’s reconciliation update, it could take much longer, at least another generation.” Of the 94 recommendations, six of them pertain to the identification of missing children and their marked and unmarked burial sites (#71-76). According to Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, these specific calls to action have not been fully implemented, though some progress has been made.
It’s important to recognize that this work cannot be done solely by our institutions; it is also work that must be done by all Canadian settlers. An important starting point is to read, understand, and demand the adoption of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which begin with calls to action for child welfare. And for those who have the means, here is a link to donate to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.
The following is further reading settlers can do to learn about the atrocities of the residential school system and take action towards reconciliation:
- Settlers Take Action (resources compiled by The On Canada Project)
- 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee
- Calls to Action Accountability: A 2020 Status Update on Reconciliation
- A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada by Phil Fontaine, Aimée Craft, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
- Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga
Here are health supports for survivors, their families and community members:
- A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
- The Indian Residential School Survivors Society offers a crisis line for grief, crisis, and trauma counselling at 1-800-721-0066.
- First Nations Health Authority provides mental wellness and culturally-safe support
Today is a national day of grieving. Let it be followed by deep, persistent action.