North Cowichan’s council wants the federal government to adequately fund investigations by First Nations and indigenous peoples of the grounds near former residential schools where aboriginal children may be buried.
Council unanimously passed the motion at its meeting on June 2 after the remains of 215 children were found at a former residential school in Kamloops.
Many council members wore orange shirts at the meeting to show their support for reconciliation with First Nations, and 215 seconds of silence were held at the beginning of the meeting in honour of each of the children found.
The motion, which was put forward by Mayor Al Siebring, also asks that money be made available to scientifically ascertain the identities of any found remains, and that the remains of those children be repatriated to families, clans, or nations of origin.
In addition, council requested that the government implement the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Siebring said he, and other council members, were still processing the discovery of the children’s remains in Kamloops.
“We did a number of symbolic things, like flying flags at half mast, lighting the hockey stick (at the Cowichan Community Centre) orange, and attending First Nation ceremonies, but as I go through this, all that seems inadequate and it is not having a concrete impact,” he said.
“The mayor of Coquitlam Richard Stewart wrote last week that reparation isn’t really possible, but is necessary. So how do we fix this? In order to do something other than symbolic, I drafted this motion.”
But Siebring said he is concerned that not every First Nation or indigenous group is going to access the funds council is asking the federal government for.
“We’ve all see first hand the emotional devastation this discovery has wrought in our own [First Nation] communities, particularly among the elders,” he said.
“Many of them have very vivid and horrific memories of their times at these schools. For many of them, the notion of bringing up the past in this way may be too much to bear.”
Coun. Debra Toporowski, who is a member of the Cowichan Tribes, said she has witnessed much pain and suffering among the local survivors of residential schools since the discovery in Kamloops.
“They are now able to speak about this for the first time publicly and actually have people believe them,” she said.
“[At the time], they were not allowed to speak about what happened to them or to the others at the residential schools due to fear of what would happen to them as a result.”