Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok was asked by the BC Liberal party to speak in the Legislature this week about the horrific findings at the Kamloops residential school.
He had to say no, he says, because he could not speak publicly about it without breaking down.
“I am horrified and sickened,” he said.
Clovechok has been immersed in the culture of the Blackfoot First Nations since he was 17 years old.
“I am an adopted member of the Piikani First Nation, the Weasel Traveller family in the Blackfoot Confederation,” he said. “I was transferred a headdress 15 years ago, as an honourary leader and I am a pipe holder.
“As my Elder said, it’s the colour of the heart, not the skin.”
And with these deep ties, Clovechok has been reeling since hearing of the mass grave of 215 children found at the former school.
And yet he is not surprised.
“I have heard these stories all my adult life from the survivors I call my family,” he said. “We may find it hard to believe, hard to comprehend, but it’s not hard to believe for the thousands of survivors still here.”
He points to the photos on the wall at the St. Eugene Resort, a former residential school on Aq’am land near Cranbrook.
“The pictures are of kids who were torn from their families. My elder’s brother passed away there.”
Indigenous people have been telling us for decades, he said, but we have not listened fully.
“People are kind and well meaning but we have to find our words. Find our care. Listen to the voices of the indigenous community. They’ve been trying to tell us for decades.
“Yet we see the racism that continues during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
Imagine, he says, sitting at your dinner table and the authorities come and take your children away.
“And there’s nothing you can do.”
It is a dark history that is not that far in the past, he says, as the last residential school was closed in the 1990s.
“We do know that these children went to this school and they never came home. It’s a tragedy. We robbed these children of the ability to learn from their parents how to be parents. They knew abuse, physical and sexual, that’s what they knew.
“And the bishops have high schools and roads named after them.
“It’s a tragic, black mark on Canadian history.”
Clovechok says resources must be made available to these communities.
“The survivors are still with us. We need to help them and their families. We need to step up. We need to lean in on this.
“We heard the stories. We felt the tragedies, the pain. We just chose not to know them.
“I am proud of my country, but not today. Not today.”