The union representing British Columbia teachers is calling on members to wear orange and schools to lower flags to half-mast this week, to honour the 215 children found in an unmarked mass grave at the former Kamloops residential school.
B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring told Global News the union had passed a motion supporting the initiative at already-planned meetings over the weekend.
Teachers are also planning walk-ins as a show of solidarity with Indigenous students and staff.
“We want to support teachers as they try to make sense of this tragedy with their students, and so we are — this is one way of reaching out and we can’t do it alone,” Mooring said.
“It is so important to do it in such a sensitive way and in an age-sensitive and age-appropriate way — that’s absolutely possible and is happening. It needs to continue and we need to do this work on a broader scale within our education system.”
The remains, which have not been exhumed, were discovered by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc using ground-penetrating radar, confirming what many local Indigenous people had said for years.
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The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1915 and 1963.
Mooring said that the residential school system is already a part of B.C.’s curriculum, but that work remains both to tackle systemic racism in the school system and to better incorporate Indigenous culture and history into the curriculum.
“(We need) resources to be curated at a local level so that when teachers are teaching about Indigenous knowledge and culture, they’re doing so about the Aboriginal communities that exist in the area where they’re teaching and where children are going to school,” she said.
“Those local resources are critical. We still have a long way to go in that regard.”
On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for flags at federal buildings, including the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, to be flown at half-mast.
A number of B.C. communities, including Vancouver and Nanaimo, have also ordered flags to be lowered, as has the University of British Columbia.
The B.C. teachers’ orange shirt action is scheduled to run from May 31 to June 4.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support to former residential school students and those affected.
The crisis line can be accessed 24-hours a day, seven days a week at 1-866-925-4419.