The chief of the B.C. First Nation whose territory includes the former Kamloops Indian Residential School is asking visitors to “slow the pace” in the interests of both physical and mental health.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc said since the discovery of the remains of 215 children in undocumented graves, there had been a “whirlwind of activity” around the former school.
Casimir said the community wanted to express its gratitude and thanks for the outpouring of support, love and donations, but remained concerned about how busy the site has become amid COVID-19.
While the province has lifted travel restrictions, the nation recently renewed its own COVID-19 state of emergency and many in the community were not fully vaccinated, she said.
“As much as we appreciate how many wish to come to Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, we also need to slow the pace so we can plan with each activity, gathering or event,” Casimir said.
“We want to respect and to uphold the need to gather and to do ceremony. However, the Tk’emlups community members are only getting their second vaccine shots.”
Along with the need to maintain COVID-19 safety, the influx of visitors also put strain on the community in terms of providing security, custodial services and other financial costs, she said.
Dr. Shannon McDonald, chief medical health officer with the First Nations Health Authority, said COVID-19 remains a risk in the area, noting that 31 new cases were confirmed in the Interior Health region over the weekend.
But she said slowing the pace of visits and activities was also important from a mental health perspective.
“We’re in this for the long haul. There are many stories to come, there are many discoveries to come, and we need to prepare for the mental journey and we need to coordinate our efforts,” she said.
“Let’s pace ourselves to ensure we still have the energy and strength and spirit for what’s to come.”
She also urged anyone affected by the discovery to seek support, either from mental health professionals, through traditional means or by reaching out to friends and loved ones.
And she cautioned people to be cautious with substance use and to always ensure they have a safe ride home.
“We don’t want tragedies upon tragedies,” she said.
Casimir said that the general public was still welcome to visit the growing memorial at the former residential school, as long as they follow COVID-19 safety protocols.
McDonald added that anyone feeling unwell should stay away, and that visitors communicate with the nation to let them know they are coming and have a plan in place.
Casimir said the nation continued to work on a final report into the discovery of the children’s’ remains, and was now aiming to have it complete by the end of the month.
“Given its significance you can understand there are a number of steps and due diligence that’s needed,” she said.