Warning: This story deals with disturbing subject matter. Discretion is advised.
A year ago this week that Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc announced it had found unmarked graves at the Kamloops residential school. The anniversary of the discovery is another painful reminder of trauma for some residential school survivors in the Shuswap, some of whom attended the Kamloops institution.
A year later, as survivors and their communities continue to process the news of the suspected unmarked graves there are calls for accountability, unanswered questions, and steps toward healing.
“When that first announcement was made, a year ago, we weren’t prepared. The first we heard of it was on the media and that was so traumatizing to me,” said Splatsin residential school survivor Gloria Morgan, at her home in Enderby, B.C.
“Every time the word ‘residential school’ is spoken…it is like that hatchet that’s buried deep in our hearts. It just opens up the wound again. It has been a year and it is no easier. It brings back memories that are hard to share.”
Morgan has unanswered questions about the burials.
“Yes, they found these graves in Kamloops a year ago but these children have been there a long, long time. I wonder why didn’t they just send them home? Children died. Why didn’t they send them home to be buried in our spiritual/cultural ways?” Morgan said.
Morgan says she wants to believe that the discovery in Kamloops created awareness in all Canadians, but is concerned about the number of “Every Child Matters” t-shirts she is finding in thrift stores.
“This isn’t something you can throw away or get rid of in a thrift store. This is not a trend. It is what happened to children for decades. Not only the government but you and everyone else out there should come and talk to us,” Morgan said.
Morgan is encouraging people to learn from survivors like herself and fellow Splatsin member Annie Cook. Cook vividly remembers the pain of being taken away from her family as a child.
“It never heals. It never heals. It is branded in my heart,” Cook said.
Cook says she is still waiting for accountability.
“How is every child supposed to matter? I don’t see anybody getting arrested,” Cook said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Splatsin member Setatkwa Christian.
“I just feel like justice hasn’t been done for these babies,” said Christian.
Christian traveled to Kamloops to be part of ceremonies on Monday recognizing the anniversary.
“The broken family system that came from that school is touching my family and it breaks my heart,” Christian said.
Christian said she has seen some change in Canadian society since the announcement of the discovery of the unmarked graves.
“I believe small steps have started taking place. You see racist things out on social media but you see a whole new era of people coming forward and saying, ‘You have no idea and you have no right to say those types of things. These people have been through enough. Canada has put them through enough,'” Christian said.
“We have more people standing up and allying with us today than we have ever had I think in the history of Indigenous people cohabitating with non-Indigenous people.”
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.
— With files from Elizabeth McSheffrey