On Thursday, May 27, it was announced the remains of 215 Indigenous children had been discovered on the grounds of Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C. These deaths were part of the Indian residential school system that operated in Canada between the 1820s and 1996 with the purpose of assimilating Indigenous Peoples into colonial Canadian society by forcibly separating Indigenous children from their families, cultures and communities.
While in the custody of these schools, many Indigenous children were subjected to shame, neglect and myriad forms of abuse including death, as evidenced by these graves. Although the Indian residential school system is commonly perceived as part of Canada’s past, its negative consequences continue to be experienced by Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. Indeed, the trauma of this announcement will reverberate amongst our communities for years to come.
To honour the lives of these 215 children and pay our respects to Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (the home community of many of the children), Brock University has lowered its flags to half-mast for 215 hours starting Monday, May 31. The Arthur Schmon Tower will also be illuminated in orange this week in honour of the lives lost.
In addition to this, Brock University will continue to pursue its strategic priority of reconciliation, Indigenization and decolonization and take real action to meet the Calls for Action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. These actions are affirmed and supported by President Gervan Fearon and Vice-President and Provost Lynn Wells.
In difficult times like this, people often ask what they can do to help, so I want to offer some practical suggestions:
- A good starting point is reading the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of 2015 which can be accessed here. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2007 to document Canada’s history of Indian residential schools primarily through engagement with survivors. The TRC was also tasked with making recommendations on how Canada could redress the harms of the Indian residential schools system.
- Engage with the 94 Calls for Action issued by the TRC. Consider how you and your organizations and communities can support these calls and take action to do so.
- Take time to let Indigenous people in your life know that you care and are there for them. Announcements like these are traumatic for many of us and your kindness and support can make a difference.
In closing, I want to send my love and support to all of the Indigenous students, staff and faculty at Brock. This is painful but we will walk through this together.
For those needing support during this difficult time, Aboriginal Student Services, Student Health and Wellness, and Brock’s employee and family assistance program are available to assist you. Resources are also available on the Human Rights and Equity office’s website.
Dr. Robyn Bourgeois
Acting Vice-Provost, Indigenous Engagement