Statement on the announcement regarding the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School

TW: discussion of the content of Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc’s May 27 announcement; racism; genocide

Like so many people across the globe, we were saddened to hear the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc’s announcement that hundreds of bodies of children had been located on the former grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The announcement was yet another confirmation of what residential school survivors have been telling us for years; much of which is documented in the TRC’s 200+ page volume entitled “Missing Children and Unmarked Burials.” 

Since the announcement on May 27, our team has been listening, reading and reflecting, both individually and together. 

To the Indigenous communities we are in relationship with, we hope you are able to take the space and time to heal. We will be reaching out to you individually to discuss any changes to timelines or project work that may need to take place as a result of this recent announcement.

As a settler-run, white-led organization whose focus is equity, we recognize the weight of our own complicity in our country’s failure to meaningfully answer the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued over five years ago, as well as the active undermining of justice for survivors of this genocidal system. We see that even today, many of those who attended the very school where these children were found are still in court as the government of Canada fights to deny them compensation.

As Indigenous writer and planner Elaine Alec says, “we cannot change or heal what we do not acknowledge.” We need to acknowledge that regardless of intent, Indigenous people in Canada still face what constitutes an active genocide today:

  • The National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health reports that “Aboriginal people are at the bottom of almost every available index of socio-economic wellbeing, whether measuring educational levels, employment opportunities, housing conditions, per capita incomes or any of the other conditions that give non-Aboriginal Canadians one of the highest standards of living in the world.”
  • In what has been described by Inuk MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq as a “modern-day residential school system,” over half of all children in foster care in Canada are Indigenous, despite constituting only 7 percent of the child population.
  • Similarly, 30 percent of inmates in Canada’s prison systems are Indigenous, though less than 5 percent of the adult population in Canada is Indigenous. In recent years, incarceration of Indigenous people in Canada has reached an “historic high” as incarceration rates for other races drop. 
  • Indigenous women accounted for 28 percent of all homicides perpetrated against women in 2019. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Final Report explicitly refers to these astounding rates of violence as genocide. 
  • Housing provided on-reserve in Canada has been called not just insufficient, but also “abhorrent” in condition by a recent United Nations report. The report also questions why in Canada, which has the most fresh water supply of any country in the world, 75 percent of reserves still have contaminated, often undrinkable water.
  • Many legislative and regulatory barriers, including those set out in the Indian Act, inhibit opportunities for business development on-reserve and deprive Indigenous people of opportunities for self-determination through economic development. As a result, the median income in reserve communities is approximately $20,000.

These are just a few of the myriad examples of the ways in which Canadian systems and structures continue to infer ill health and cultural destruction on Indigenous peoples. 

When talking about equity, we define it as “the fair distribution of opportunities, power and resources to meet the needs of all people, regardless of age, ability, gender or background.” Reports can be written and apologies can be given, but to echo Indigenous lawyer and scholar Dr. Pam Palmater, true reconciliation “will only be found in the discomfort that comes with the exchange of land, wealth and power.” Only through continued, meaningful action toward this, both on a government and a personal level, will we be able to meet the material needs of Indigenous people and rectify this appalling situation. We, as settlers, are both personally and politically responsible for taking action on this front. For those settlers asking what they can do at this time, IndigiNews and The Discourse have partnered to compile an extensive list of potential actions.

It’s also not lost on us that we are at the start of Indigenous History Month. This is a month to celebrate the history and culture of Indigenous people, rather than to centre the actions of settlers and the impacts of settler colonialism. For the month of June, we’ll be featuring stories and content from Indigenous people and communities across our social channels. To hear more and share your own favourite stories, videos and resources, join us on Twitter (@BC_HC).

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