Indigenous people in Canada need space and time to process the magnitude of the discovery of 215 children buried in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, says a B.C. tribal chief.
And then they need meaningful, systemic change.
Splatsin Kukpi7 and Secwépemc Tribal Chief Wayne Christian told Global News that second conversation is coming, but not until the shockwaves of last week’s announcement have settled.
“It’s like a reliving of that event, you go back to that place. So if you think about what’s happened, the response is a normal one. People are angry and in rage, and they want to find a way to let that go,” he said.
“And I think that’s the most critical piece of this, people need that space to let that process.”
While the confirmation of the children’s Thursday by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc shocked Canadians, it came as no surprise to First Nations people in B.C., Christian said.
But he said the outpouring of support from across the country, including symbolic acts such as the lowering of flags, have been welcome because they honour, respect and show dignity to children who were denied it in life.
Survivors are finally beginning to feel heard, he added.
The real work, he said, is what comes next.
Christian drew a direct line between Canada’s Indian Act, the country’s Indian residential schools, the Sixties Scoop where thousands of Indigenous children were taken into the child welfare system, and today’s system of children in care in which Indigenous children are heavily overrepresented.
“It’s a continuation. People don’t see that connection. It’s a multi-generational legislative process. And who pays the price? It’s the kids. Our children pay the price,” he said.
“That’s what this shows us, 215 children. Nobody was there to protect them. Nobody was there to make sure they never got harmed. They were taken away from the safety of their communities, their families. Think about that.”
A survivor of the 60s Scoop himself, Christian said it’s time to halt the removal of Indigenous children from their families, and turn responsibility over to Indigenous communities in cases where a child’s safety is in question.
It is also time to repeal the Indian Act, he said.
Christian also wants to see accountability for the Catholic church, and any living people who participated in the residential school system.
The Kamloops school was operated by the Catholic church from 1893 to 1969, mostly under a Catholic order called the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
On Wednesday, Archbishop Michael Miller of the Vancouver archdiocese renewed his 2013 apology for the church’s role in the residential school system, which he said was “unquestionably wrong.”
In Kamloops Wednesday, Mayor Ken Christian said local First Nations have the community’s support, when they are ready.
“There’s obviously a great deal of healing that has to happen within their own community, and we as outsiders need to be patient and let that happen.”
That process might take some time, Chief Christian said, but Indigenous people will expect real action in the weeks and months to come.
“Canadians have to accept some responsibility in this. Learn your true history, not the history that’s sort of been taught to you in schools — Canada is built on the backs of our people, on the lives of our people, and they need to know that and acknowledge that,” he said.
“Yeah the country is paying attention. Now lets do something.”
Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access a 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.