Flags at municipal buildings and schools across the Okanagan Valley have been lowered to half-mast and school members are wearing orange as part of a provincewide initiative to show respect and mourning for the children whose remains have been found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said flags at all City of Kelowna properties are at half-mast in solidarity with all Indigenous peoples after the tragic discovery.
“All we can do right now is express is our deepest condolences to the generations of families who continue to live with their own grief wrought by the residential school system — and now the confirmation that innocent, helpless children were doomed by that nightmarish system,” Basran said.
“The misery of this discovery also re-emphasizes our nation’s need to follow through on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples across Canada.”
Basran noted that Indigenous children from across the B.C. Interior were sent to the Kamloops residential school.
“These gestures of remorse and support for Indigenous peoples are important and necessary today, but long-term healing and reconciliation must be a focus for all of us in the days, weeks, months and years ahead,” Basran said.
The City of Penticton lowered its flag to half-mast and said a moment of silence will be observed at Tuesday’s regular council meeting.
“We are devastated by this news and stand with you during this time of unimaginable grief,” Penticton mayor John Vassilaki said.
“This discovery is a tragic reminder of the devastating and ongoing impact and trauma caused by residential schools and the importance of recognizing the past and working towards reconciliation.”
Okanagan teachers are following a BC Teachers’ Federation directive to wear orange and offer age-appropriate learning opportunities to discuss the atrocities that occurred at residential schools, and reconciliation efforts.
“The BCTF, at a provincial meeting this last Friday and Saturday, passed a motion that all local teacher unions work with their teachers to recognize this tragedy by organizing some type of recognition at their school,” said Okanagan-Skaha Teachers’ Union president Kevin Epp.
“This could be things such as Orange Shirt events and a variety of other learning opportunities, as appropriate for age, grade, and developmental level of students.”
The Central Okanagan School District says all schools lowered the Canadian flag to half-mast. The flags will remain lowered until further notice.
“We are deeply saddened by what has been revealed at the Kamloops Residential School,” said Moyra Baxter, chairperson for the board of education.
“This is a grim reminder of Canada’s dark past. We mourn alongside our nation’s Indigenous peoples.”
The district said students and staff may be seen wearing the colour orange this week in honour of all Indigenous children who were forced into the residential school system.
The North Okanagan-Shuswap school district said schools will hold an Orange Shirt Day. Schools will be contacting families with details early this week.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced the discovery Thursday after ground-penetrating radar confirmed what members had long said about the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was the largest institution of its kind in Canada.
The Kamloops RCMP said it is working with community leaders on next steps, a process that could also include the BC Coroners Service, academic experts and the Royal B.C. Museum.
Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access this 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419