Mourning the children of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc
They were 215 children. The children had names. They had parents. They had a future. The children were taken from their homes and forced to participate in an institution that was designed to control them; to assimilate them into the dominant culture; to separate them from their land, their language, and their lineage. They include children as young as three years of age.
Canadians have been horrified at news that broke over the weekend that the remains of 215 Indigenous children were uncovered at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Of course, people are utterly heartbroken. Our thoughts are with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, previously known as the Kamloops Indian Band.
This discovery is a shattering reminder of Canada’s longstanding residential school policy and its impact on our country. Residential schools and the act of taking children from their families and their homes is not simply immoral. Residential schools were a mechanism for genocide. This genocide took place at the hands of the Canadian government and, in this case, the Catholic Church, both of whom should be held to account.
The inequities that Indigenous peoples face today can be traced back to this reprehensible legacy and the intergenerational trauma it has perpetuated. The health outcome disparities that exist for Indigenous peoples are rooted in the laws, policies, and practices of our country, including residential schools, forced mass resettlement, and intentional cultural oppression. At the core of these laws and policies is the fundamental denial of the rights of Indigenous peoples.
But let us not assume that this is a problem of our past. It is a crisis in the present. The same root problem of the denial of Indigenous rights is perpetuating ongoing discrimination that affects the Indigenous children of today.
There are more First Nations children in foster care now than there were children in residential schools at the height of that abhorrent policy. Twenty-five years after the last residential school closed, there are still hundreds of Indigenous babies and children taken away from their families every year. They are taken into foster care using contemptible explanations, including excuses that the parents are too poor, or they lack adequate housing. Beyond the obvious trauma for children scooped from their homes, we know that Indigenous children in care will be set on a dangerous path. Evidence shows how many of them become homeless or entangled in the criminal justice system. Some will suffer from problematic substance use, while others will be numbered in the statistics of Indigenous youth who are missing or murdered.
So, when we reflect on the horror of the mass grave of these 215 children, we must do more than lower the flags at government offices. We must do much more than changing profile pictures and sharing hashtags on social media. We must speak up against the injustices facing Indigenous peoples today. We must call for the rights of Indigenous peoples to be recognized and implemented. We must respond to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Here at the Faculty of Health Sciences, we stand in solidarity with Indigenous learners, staff, and faculty members. We trust you will draw on the traditions and teachings of your culture so that despite the unspeakable grief, you will find peace. As this harrowing new revelation breaks open the wounds of the past once more, I hope we can learn from you and find a path towards a better future for Canada.
On the eve of National Indigenous History Month – a time meant to celebrate the history, heritage and diversity of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Canada – let us keep those children, who were stolen from their families and never returned, in our hearts and at the front of our minds. Their story must drive us relentlessly forward to pursue truth and reconciliation.
Ways to reflect as a community
Please reach out to the FHS Elder-in-residence, Wendy Phillips, for support on an as-needed basis: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday May 31st at 2:15pm · Moment of silence
Join people across Canada in observing a moment of silence, from wherever you are.
Monday May 31st all day · Gathering at Kingston City Hall
Join this gathering to honour Indigenous children and create a space for healing and community. Bring a pair of children’s moccasins or shoes to place on the steps of city hall.
Wednesday, June 2nd at 1:00 PM · Indigenous Wellness Circle
For those who are grieving these losses and would like a space for discussion and community, this circle is open to Indigenous community members, faculty, staff, students, and allies. The circle will be hosted by the Indigenous Teacher Education Program.
Please register in advance here:
Please keep in mind that this space is to centre Indigenous voices, emotions, and experiences. Allies are encouraged to come respectfully.