Executive Dean of the Vancouver Campus Brad O’Hara, Ph.D., addresses the finding of children’s remains in an unmarked grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia and discusses the need to to do more to address this history of injustice and its legacy, in a message to Vancouver Campus students, faculty, and staff.
I am writing you today from the unceded, ancestral lands of the Coast Salish peoples – the Musqueam, the Squamish and the Tsleil-waututh First Nations – as I continue to reflect on the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. I was horrified and saddened to learn that the remains of children, as young as 3 years old, were detected in an unmarked grave – shedding light on a dark and painful part of our history the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation has long fought to prove. As the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) noted when they called for the search of all residential school sites, “Subjected to institutionalized child neglect in life, they have been dishonoured in death.”
For more than 100 years, thousands of Indigenous children in Canada were taken from their families and forced into residential schools to assimilate into Euro-Canadian culture – and a significant number of them never returned. According to the TRC at least 4,100 students died while attending residential schools across Canada – many from mistreatment or neglect, others from accident or disease.
In the fight for racial justice, we must not turn away from the complicated history of colonialism and white supremacy that is at the foundation of our country. Rumours of mass graves have persisted for years. The TRC’s call for $1.5 million in funding to investigate these unmarked graves was denied by the federal government in 2009. The tragic discovery in Kamloops has precipitated an outcry to examine all former residential school grounds for similar gravesites, consistent with many of the 94 Calls to Action issued by the TRC.
As Adlerians, we must hold public officials and ourselves accountable to do more to address this history of injustice and its legacy. This includes reckoning with the implications of the finding in the 2016 Census that whereas only 7.7% of children under the age of 14 are Indigenous in this country, 52.2% of the children under the age of 14 in foster care are Indigenous. The number of Indigenous children in foster care today is higher than the number of Indigenous children in residential schools at the height of the Indian Residential School system.
We must also redouble our efforts to take care of one another. With that in mind, I offer a few resources that have been shared by members of our community as we continue to process this recent news:
- A National Residential School Crisis Line to support former students operates 24/7 and can be accessed at 1.866.925.4419
- Within British Columbia, the KUU-US Crisis Line Society, established for First Nations & Indigenous peoples, can be reached at 1.800.588.8717
- Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials; the final report of the 2015 Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada
- The Indian Residential School Survivors Society, a Provincial organization that provides services to Indian Residential School Survivors
- The National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation, where one can find publications specific to the residential school system.
- Sign the petition calling for a National Day of Mourning for Children
Nothing can completely heal the pain and trauma that this gruesome discovery has caused residential school survivors and intergenerational survivors, but if you do nothing else today, please take time to familiarize yourself with the TRC’s Calls to Action and make them a priority in all you do. I personally commit to doing so.