B.C. Premier John Horgan says British Columbians are “proud people” who have “done extraordinary things together,” but that we also have done “atrocious things together, and collectively, we have a responsibility to face that head-on.”
In a ministerial statement in the legislature on Monday, Horgan said the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School makes that “more real now than ever before.
“This House has an opportunity to look back over the history, the tragic history, that is not just a moment in time but a live history of our situation here in Canada and here in British Columbia,” Horgan said.
“Survivors of the residential school atrocities live it every day. Their children are also living it, and their grandchildren are living it. This is not something that happened in the past. It is something that is going on right now, and the events in Kamloops over the weekend bring that home graphically to all British Columbians, all Canadians and, indeed, the international community.”
The legislature has flown its flag at half-mast in memory of the children who died.
The province is working on implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission along with the federal government.
“Survivors most assuredly feel grief, they feel heartache and they feel outrage. Children taken from their homes and sent to who knows where, without any notice, and told they could not speak their language, oftentimes beaten, oftentimes sexually abused,” Horgan said.
“Impossible to imagine in 2021, but yet that is the history of the residential schools in our country.”
Horgan said he will be visiting the northern B.C. community of Lower Post on June 21, National Indigenous People Day, for the demolishing of a former residential school there. It will start the process of building a new community centre, supported by both the federal and provincial government.
“And although I was very much looking forward to that moment, it has materially changed due to the events in Kamloops,” Horgan said.
“I want all of us to live with the burden because that is the least we can do. Our children were not taken away from us.”
Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, says noting the”unimaginable proportions” of this tragedy is an ‘incredibly unfortunate characterization of the situation’.
Olsen says for Indigenous People, this story is not shocking nor is it “unimaginable.” This is the trauma families have carried for generations.
“We know that if these children were not Indigenous but rather European, that we would not have been slow to act. I see on social media my friends and colleagues sharing graphics agreeing that all children matter,” Olsen said.
“Yet deep down, we know that in our society it’s just a fact: in Canada and British Columbia, some children matter less. We know underneath the shiny, happy facade of Canada and British Columbia, there lurks a grotesque and shameful past.”
A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former residential school students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1 866 925-4419.
Within B.C., the KUU-US Crisis Line Society provides a First Nations and Indigenous-specific crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, toll-free at 1-800-588-8717. Alternatively, a youth line can be reached at 250-723-2040 and an adult line is available at 250-723-4050. The KUU-US Crisis Line Society can also be contacted online.