Surrey schools and city hall have lowered their flags to half-mast to pay respect to the 215 Indigenous children who were discovered buried in an unmarked, mass grave in Kamloops.
“This horrific tragedy serves as a difficult reminder for survivors of residential schools and their families, of the hurt and intergenerational trauma they have endured. We will continue to care for our staff, students, and families in need of our support or resources, and we encourage anyone who needs additional support to reach out to their school. We must all continue to take care of each other,” stated the Surrey School District Monday.
Surrey has the largest Indigenous population in B.C., with 13,460 people identifying as First Nation, Metis or Inuit, according to the Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee.
Surrey Schools stressed the need for more education on residential schools.
“As a public education institution, the Surrey School District remains committed to revealing and correcting miseducation around the shameful legacy of residential schools and the ongoing need for Truth and Reconciliation. As the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, once said, ‘Education got us into this mess and education will get us out of it.’”
Likewise, at city hall, flags were also lowered.
“The heartbreaking legacy of the residential school system is a dark and shameful chapter in Canada’s history. The flags will be lowered tomorrow at all civic buildings and will fly at half-mast for 215 hours in memory of each young life lost,” stated Mayor Doug McCallum.
First Nation band Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc announced Thursday that the remains of 215 children were found buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was at one point the largest in the Indian Affairs residential school system. The school was in operation between 1890 and 1978, operated for most of that time by the Catholic Church.
It’s not yet known if there are records of these children and the band says it is working with archivists in B.C.
According to band member Kúkpi7/Chief Rosanne Casimir, the remains were found with the help of a ground-penetrating radar specialist. She said past research on missing children and groundwork led to the most recent findings. The discovery, said Casimir, confirmed long-held beliefs about children dying and being buried on the school grounds.
Members and the public gathered Friday in Kamloops to honour the children.
“It’s always been known when we were kids,” Willow George told Castanet Kamloops.
“We knew when we were kids — we knew they were buried, they were put in the river, in the pond, in the furnace. But the number was never known.”
George, whose parents and brothers attended the residential school, formed an impromptu drum circle Friday on Seymour Street with a handful of co-workers.
The head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kamloops Bishop Joseph Nguyen issued a statement on Friday morning, offering his support for local First Nations.
“On behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kamloops, I express my deepest sympathy to Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc nation and to all who are mourning this tragedy and an unspeakable loss,” Nguyen said.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded in 2015 that “cultural genocide” occurred against First Nations people. In 2019 the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls stated longstanding violence against Indigenous women amounts to genocide. Regardless of official recognitions, Most Canadians agree First Nations people are victims of genocide.
On Monday national leaders spoke.
“These were children who deserved to be happy, most of all deserved to be safe,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“As Prime Minister, I’m appalled by the shameful policy that stole indigenous children from their communities.
“Sadly this is not an exception or an isolated incident,” said Trudeau.
“It is a genocide that is ongoing,” said federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, calling for an emergency debate in Parliament.
- With files from Kristen Holliday/Castanet News