The question on many minds, just days after the announcement that a burial site of 215 children has been found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, is where do we go from here?
What do we do? Who should be accountable for what happened?
“I was shocked and appalled. I’m not going to pretend I was enormously surprised. I don’t think anyone is surprised anymore about what we hear went on in terms of Indigenous people in this country,” Rev. Michael Coren, a cleric with the Anglican Church of Canada, told Global News Monday.
Coren is not a spokesperson for the Anglican Church but is an author and a columnist.
“The more I’ve learned over the years and the more I’ve learned as a cleric, in particular — it’s blood-curdling,” he said. “And I suspect we will find out more in the next few years too.”
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced the discovery of the remains Thursday after ground-penetrating radar confirmed what members had long said about the former school, which had been the largest institution of its kind in Canada.
The school was operated mostly under a Catholic order called the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, founded in 1816.
Coren said he thinks full accountability can never be achieved in any church for their part in what happened.
He said many churches have given apologies and compensation to First Nations communities and while he acknowledged it is nowhere close to enough, it’s “a start.”
The Catholic Church has so far refused to issue an official apology for its role in residential schools, even when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Pope Francis during a visit to the Vatican in 2017.
“Pope Francis can be very progressive on some issues: refugees, climate change, economic justice. But when it comes to full apologies for the Catholic Church’s history and, to a degree, its current stance, he doesn’t do particularly well.
Coren said he believes the Catholic Church is “terrified” of the possible financial and legal consequences of admitting responsibility.
“I don’t expect everything to be solved. The wound will not be healed, but they can go a long way towards it. These small, semi-apologies simply won’t do. They’re not sufficient.”
Angela White, executive director for the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, agreed that acknowledgment is just the beginning.
She said we have to push to make those at all levels of government accountable.
“Right now, the rest of the community is in shock,” White said. “They can’t believe that this is something that has happened in our own backyard when Canada is supposed to be at the forefront of the world when it comes to human rights. This isn’t supposed to happen to us but here it is.”
“In order for this to move forward in a good way, words have to turn into actions. Without those actions. reconciliation is meaningless.”
A good place to start, she said, would be ensuring clean drinking water in all communities, building safe and comfortable housing, and addressing the systemic racial tensions between the health-care systems, the RCMP and Indigenous communities.
Governments should also provide support for parents and families who are in contact with the Ministry of Children and Families and ensure they have resources to keep their families together, White said.
“We’re not looking for everything. We’re just looking for the basics of making sure everyone’s mental health, spiritual health and emotional health are, at the bare minimum, OK.”
Coren said we should be reaching out and asking Indigenous people “What can we do?” and then “shut up and listen.”
“I think what we have to do is listen to Indigenous people and listen a lot. And it will hurt. It should hurt. And then move forward with procedure and policies to try and do all we can to put things right.”
For White, she said we can’t make up for the past, so we have to move forward respectfully and peacefully.
“For me, the light at the end of the tunnel… it is slow, but we are moving forward.”
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.
– with files from Aaron McArthur