A nation in mourning

The discovery of 215 children buried at the site of a former residential school in B.C. has caused an emotional reaction across the country. The following are some reactions from local leaders.

Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh and Grand Council Treaty #3 express deep condolences to the people of Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation and all communities whose children attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The remains of 215 students found on the school site last week is a solemn reminder of the harm inflicted by the Residential School System on First Nations communities across Canada.

“I am outraged, saddened, and completely heartbroken upon hearing the news,” said Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh. “This story has resonated with people from across the country because every First Nation person has been impacted, whether directly or from the intergenerational trauma inflicted by residential schools. The trauma inflicted by the Residential School System is still impacting our communities to this day.”

The Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty #3 calls upon all its affiliated organizations and its neighbours in the Treaty #3 territory to lower their flags to half mast this week in honour of the 215 children and all the survivors of residential schools.

“I hope that this tragic news allows Canadians to consider the harm caused by these institutions,” added Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh. “It hurts when people say the effects are in the past or that the policy was anything short of what it was: the crime of genocide. Survivors still face denial of the genocide including most notably from the Roman Catholic Church.”

This week will also see many ceremonies and acts of remembrance across Treaty #3 and all citizens of the Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty #3 are asked to check in with loved ones and community members that may need support.

– Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh and Grand Council Treaty #3

“Our government, alongside Ontario Regional Chief Roseanne Archibald, was shocked and saddened by the discovery of remains of 215 children on the former site of a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. To pay respect to these children, their families, and survivors of Canada’s residential school system, Premier Doug Ford has ordered provincial flags to be flown at half-mast.

The residential school era is a dark chapter in Canada’s history, with Indigenous families and communities continuing to experience multi-generational trauma as a result of this terrible system. This discovery hits close to home for many Indigenous people across the country and here in Ontario who lost family and community members to the residential school system.  

We continue to strengthen relationships with Indigenous partners to support healing and make reconciliation real by advancing initiatives that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of Indigenous people and communities.”

– MPP Greg Rickford, Kenora – Rainy River, Minister of Indigenous Affairs

It is with great dismay that we recognize Canada’s Indigenous children whose lives were lost while suffering at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. 215 children had their lives cut short while being systematically persecuted and abused by the Government of Canada and religious authorities. These children were never given the chance to embrace their family heritage and culture, and were instead subject to forced assimilation. There must be accountability from federal, provincial, and religious officials as our people come to terms with this atrocity, and we investigate the sites of Canada’s other residential schools.
Elmer St Pierre, National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples shares the following statement:

What we have seen over the weekend triggers extreme trauma for the Indigenous Peoples who experienced the abuse of Canada’s residential school system first hand. Words cannot express our sympathy to all of the families of the 215 children unearthed at Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C. These were innocent lives, the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandsons and granddaughters. They were violently stolen by the Government of Canada, with the intent of exterminating their culture, language and way of life.

This was not an isolated incident. The residential school system was in operation until 1996, and our governments must take ownership of the costs associated with a full investigation of these sites. Thousands of children were taken from their families never to return. The survivors continue to carry the experience with them to this day, and continue to fight against the destruction of their language, culture and communities.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 calls to action in its landmark 2015 report. These included measures to improve child welfare protections, education, language, health, and other areas where ongoing damage was seen from the legacy of residential schools. According to the Yellowhead Institute, only 9 of the 94 calls to action have been completed as of 2021. This is disgraceful.

-Elmer St Pierre and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

“Indigenous Peoples across Canada are hurting. We are in pain, remembering all those we have lost and the destruction of what residential schools has left behind. The discovery of those precious 215 lost children – our children – has underscored the daunting amount of work to be done to ensure justice, dignity and equity for our people.

All Indigenous Peoples living today in Canada are survivors of Canada’s tools of genocide. We are survivors of Indian residential schools, survivors of the Indian Act, survivors of the Sixties Scoop and survivors of ongoing systemic racism which attempts to erase us. But we are still here.

The death of our children is a crime against humanity, but Canada has never treated it as such. This country must own up to its past, as must all of its governments and institutions. I am calling on Ontario and the Canadian government to work with all First Nations at the sites of the schools and look for our lost children. It is a great open secret that our children lie on the properties of the former schools – an open secret that Canadians can no longer look away from. In keeping with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Missing Children Projects, every school site must be searched for the graves of our ancestors.

Canada must also demand apologies from those who helped commit these heinous crimes. Pope Francis, the Catholic Church and all other churches involved must own up to their part in this genocide, apologize and offer financial restitution to survivors and the families of those lost.

Finally, we must remember that Canada’s governments at every level have roles to play, responsibilities and treaty obligations. I am calling on the government of Ontario to immediately lower the flags at all provincial buildings to half-mast to honour the 215 children lost, and will call for a moment of silence tomorrow at Queens Park. I will also be calling on the government of Ontario to institute an annual Day of Mourning and Remembrance for those we lost to residential schools, and to survivors. Let this be the first step towards an honest reckoning with the past by Ontario, by Canada, and all the people who call this land home.”

-MPP Sol Mamakwa (Kiiwetinoong), the NDP’s critic for Indigenous and Treaty Relations