Delta Mayor George Harvie is calling on the federal government to implement “as a matter of urgency” the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission following the recent discovery of 215 children buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dated June 2, the mayor calls on the federal government to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, in particular those that relate to missing children and burial information.
Further, Harvie asks for the full disclosure of related records by the federal government and churches involved in the administration of residential schools.
“This tragedy represents the worst of Canada’s colonial history and is devastating for so many people in communities across the country. This is a time to mourn the lost children, reflect on the testimony of residential school survivors, and support those who continue to be traumatised by a legacy of violence and systemic racism in Canada,” Harvie wrote.
“As a community, we are shocked and saddened by the loss of these children and all that they represent of a dark and repressive time in our history. It is time for the Canadian government to make good on its promises of reconciliation, to take affirmative action to uncover hidden truths, and to take positive steps towards healing and renewal.”
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report on the legacy of Canada’s residential school system, including 94 calls to action to help “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”
Under the heading of Missing Children and Burial Information, the commission called upon all chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies to make their records on the deaths of children in the care of residential school authorities available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, and for the federal government to allocate allocate sufficient resources to the NCTR to allow it to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register established by the commission.
Further, the commission called upon the federal government to work with churches, Aboriginal communities and former residential school students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries — including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children — and to inform families of their children’s burial locations and respond to the families’ wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, including reburial in their home communities where requested.
As well, the commission called for the federal government to work with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students and current landowners to develop and implement strategies and procedures for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried.
Finally, the commission called upon all parties engaged in the work of documenting, maintaining, commemorating, and protecting residential school cemeteries to adopt strategies led by the Aboriginal community most affected and developed using information provided by residential school survivors and other Knowledge Keepers, and respect Aboriginal protocols before engaging in any potentially invasive technical inspection and investigation of a cemetery site.
The Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed May 28 that the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School — some as young as three years old — had been found on the reserve using ground-penetrating radar.
In a release, Chief Rosanne Casimir called the discovery an “unthinkable loss that was spoken about, but never documented.”
The Kamloops school, which was the biggest in the country’s residential school system, opened in 1890 and was run by the Catholic Chirch until 1969, when the federal government took over the operation. The facility then operated as a day school until it closed in 1978.
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1914 and 1963. The commission noted in its 2015 report that officials in 1918 believed children at the school were not being adequately fed, leading to malnutrition.
The commission’s nearly 4,000-page account details the harsh mistreatment including the emotional, physical and sexual abuse inflicted on Indigenous children at residential schools, where at least 3,200 children died amid neglect.
On Tuesday evening (June 1), during a special “take-note debate,” Trudeau pledged the support of the federal government to help in preserving gravesites and uncovering potentially more unmarked burial grounds at other former residential schools, stressing the need for Indigenous communities to decide for themselves how they want to proceed.
— with files from Dirk Meissner and Joan Bryden/The Canadian Press, and Kamloops This Week
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is offering toll-free 24-hour telephone support for survivors and their families at 1 (866) 925-4419. The KUU-US Crisis Line Society‘s 24-hour line is available at 1-800-588-8717.