Monday, May 31, 2021

Kamloops Residential school graves discovery will put focus to reckoning of past, recognition of victims and families

Kamloops Residential School
(photo from Thompson Rivers University)

The horrific news from Kamloops of Thursday of the discovery of 215 graves of children who attended the Residential School in that British Columbia community has given Canadians a weekend to consider the unfathomable.

How could the names of those children go unrecorded for so long, how could their families be left to never know of their fate and why have we neglected and not addressed a situation that has long been known, but never taken on as our own to complete.

The first word of the confirmation of the mass grave site came from Kamloops First Nations representatives with Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, which outlined the work that was done to determine the location of the graves.

"It is with a heavy heart that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir confirms an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented by the Kamloops Indian Residential School. This past weekend, with the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist, the stark truth of the preliminary findings came to light – the confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School."

Perhaps the comments that resonated the most when it comes to the news from the weekend were delivered by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, British Columbia's former Representative for Children and Youth who noted in many media appearances over the weekend that:

"The discovery of buried remains of 215 children at a former residential school is horrific — but not shocking ... A mass grave is a crime scene, a mass grave is a place where there’s probably evidence of gross human rights violations" 

And from those words and observations a journey of reckoning and reconciliation should now begin.

Locally the Nisga'a Nation was the first to speak to the Kamloops discovery, issuing a statement on Friday.

From Saturday forward, notes on gestures of remembrance followed from the Prime Minister and Premier Horgan and others. 

And  as the weekend evolved local leaders from the municipal, provincial and federal political spectrum shared their statements through Social Media

A public gathering Sunday at Prince Rupert's Court House Cenotaph offered a forum for School survivors and their families along with residents to the North Coast to share in the grief of the Kamloops graves discovery and to share a resolve to continue to call for action on other unknown locations.

School District 52 as well relayed their approach of recognition of the Kamloops graves and the resolve to continue the work ahead on reconciliation.

The weekend has served as a prologue for what will be a long journey ahead for Canadians, for Kamloops is just one location of what will be many, many more announcements of discovered graves and the need to dedicate not only resources; but required action to the past that needs to be charted, with names listed, causes of death if possible established.

It will not be an easy road this one ahead, but it is one that needs to be travelled.

As a nation, a province and among those religious institutions such as the Catholic Church which ran the Kamloops school and others, the need to move quickly towards a comprehensive review of each Residential School site records, should be the starting point. 

The forensic work the guiding force that will determine how many more graves will be identified, how many more families will need to be notified and how many more stories will need to be told.

The Residential Schools story is not a dusty history lesson of a century ago, the Kamloops facility closed in 1977, the program of Residential Schools finally ending in 1990

The still haunting spectre of the Residential Schools made for one of the many recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report,  a document which identifies the way forward and yet remains an extensive collection of goals for reconciliation that requires much work to address.

The Residential School System and the harm it caused and continues to inflict on the survivors was an important part of the focus  at the time of the report.  

The need to resolve to allocate resources towards missing children and burial information also made for an important passage of the TRC report  and yet many of those key Calls to action  have yet to be acted upon.

Among the many areas requiring attention is the call for recognition of their role in the past by the religious organizations; in this instance Kamloops that of the Catholic Church and their responsibility to speak to the past and to apologize for what they did unto others.

There can be no further delay in reviewing each of the Residential School locations, to account for those who died with no acknowledgement at the time and for accountability as to how they perished.

All the words of the weekend and what will come in the future need to be followed by a concerted effort to address the horrific period of those times.

It should come with a dedication to ensure that no measure is left undone to identify and pay proper respects to those who lay buried both in Kamloops and in other unmarked and unknown burial sites wherever they may be found across the nation.

For families that have been impacted by Friday's announcement and for what may now be ahead, there is a service available to assist you with the Indian Residential School Survivors Society of BC offering live telephone support at 1-800-721-0066. 

Another starting point on the journey can be the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation which hosts a wide number of resources and information to share.

A cross section of some of the national coverage of the Kamloops burial site and what the future journey for us all will be can be found here from our political blog D'Arcy McGee.

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