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Speaking from the First Nation’s grand powwow arbour, she urged the Roman Catholic Church and Canadian government to cast their “repeat” apologies aside and commit to real action and funds to help Indigenous communities heal.
“It is time that we embrace our real collective history, recognizing the painful past shared for so many and that we all continue on that path for real change for future generations,” she said Thursday.
“Let us all lean in to be that hope of change in making a difference and to ensure every child matters.”
In May, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc sent shockwaves of grief and anger across the country when it announced the remains of 215 children had been found in an unmarked burial site at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.
Other First Nations searched their own former residential school sites with ground-penetrating radar, which revealed more than 1,000 other children had been buried. The Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan alone located 751 children.
The federal government later declared Sept. 30 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — finally answering a six-year-old call from the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
That 2015 commission and its 94 Calls to Action laid out a “blueprint” for reconciliation for both Canada and the Catholic Church, said Kúkpi7 Casimir. Yet to this day, she added, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and other Indigenous nations that suffered under the residential school system do not have “unfettered access” to the documents, records and funding that would allow them to memorialize those who attended and their families.
She decried the “cynical” residential schools apology Canadian Catholic bishops issued last week and called on the Roman Catholic Church to immediately begin work on implementing the TRC’s Calls to Action.
“Reconciliation requires truth. It requires truth, and is but one milestone along with the restitution and, potentially, retribution in the path towards reconciliation,” she said.
“At the very least, steps towards reconciliation demands honesty and transparency.”
Canada’s residential school system was in place from the late 1800s to the mid-1990s, and sought to “eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development” of Indigenous children, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The state and church-run institutions forcibly removed more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children from their families and placed them in schools where many were physically, sexually and spiritually abused by those charged with their care. Many were also starved as part of scientific experiments on the effects of malnutrition.
Thousands died in the harrowing system of assimilation, leading to intergenerational trauma that has had a deep and lasting impact on survivors, their children, relations and communities.
In 2015, the TRC found Canada guilty of “cultural genocide,” and to this day, governments have failed in many ways to meaningfully repair or compensate for the lasting harm.
On Thursday, Kúkpi7 Casimir also announced that ground-penetrating radar has detected additional artifacts buried on its grounds, and is waiting for more information on what they are.
There are 160 acres of land Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation must go through. Only two acres were scanned for the initial finding of the 215 unmarked graves.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.