The discovery of the remains of 215 children who were victims of the Kamloops Residential school in B.C. spark outrage and a call from provincial and federal Green Parties for a real commitment and action towards Indigenous reconciliation.

The Kamloops Residential school in British Colombia (Image source: Canadian Press)

Kamloops discovery

The discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous Children near the former Kamloops residential school on May 28th, produced shock waves across Canada. The school in Kamloops, British Columbia operated as an Indian residential school from 1890 to 1969. The Canadian government took over the administration from the Catholic Church in 1969. It was then used as a day school residence until being shut down in 1978.

According to he Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation the remains were found using penetrating radar technology. Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc said that the findings were shocking but that it was also a reality known too well for Indigenous Communities, especially the ones around Kamloops.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation estimates that 4 100 Indigenous children never returned home from residential schools. The real number of victims could be much higher as records were not properly kept. Additionally, religious institutions have withheld certain records from the public deliberately.

The residential school system and its goal of of what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission labelled as cultural genocide, devastated generations of First Nations Peoples from the 1830s to 1997. On top of being forcefully taken away from their homes and communities, First Nations children suffered unspeakable physical, mental and sexual abuse. Furthermore, numerous children suffered from disease outbreaks such as tuberculosis.

Green parties across Canada react to the discovery

Canadian green parties expressed their condolences and sorrow in reaction to the Kamloops discovery. The Green Party of Canada released a statement expressing that the discovery is “devastating”. Partido Verde de Canadá leader Annamie Paul urged the federal government to address the disproportional amount of Indigenous Children in the foster care system, to sustainably fund new and current Indigenous healing centers and to allow non-status First Nations’ children living off reserve to have access to Jordan’s Principle. Jordan’s Principle insures that First Nations children living in Canada can access the products, services and supports they need. This includes health, social and educational needs.

The Green Party of Alberta expressed their anger on social media at the practices of “poor record keeping” and burying students in “unmarked graves”. Indeed, this is why the true number of victims may never be known. After declaring the discovery as “unspeakably horrific”, P.E.I. Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker asked:

We must look deep within ourselves and answer the question; what will I do right now to advance meaningful reconciliation?

Peter Bevan-Baker on the P.E.I. Green Party Facebook page

The Green Party of Quebec have also expressed their belief for the urgent need of meaningful reconciliation on social media. The party demands that Canada acts against all types of violence and racism against First Nations. The B.C. Green Party have also expressed their sorrow and anger at the discovery.

Adam Olsen national assembly speech

Following the discovery, Green MLA for Saanich North and the Islands Adam Olsen, delivered an emotional speech in the B.C. legislature. Olsen demanded immediate action in response to what he described as Canada’s “grotesque and shameful past”. Olsen expressed that governments should respond with urgency to the ongoing trauma caused by the Residential School System.

Olsen kept implying that those children “didn’t come home for school”, that RCMP, the Church and Indian agents were responsible for breaking up communities. Olsen expressed how he is delivering the speech to “honour those who lost their lives”.

He implied that 130 years of nightmares are what plagues his family and First Nations communities. Olsen’s remarks were direct and emotional:

It is just a fact that some children matter less.

Adam Olsen in the British Columbia Legislature

Olsen finished by saying that current reconciliation efforts are not enough. He urged the legislature to stop pretending and to start acting.

One of the ultimate lessons that can be drawn from this discovery, is that Canada’s reconciliation efforts must be truthful and must be extensively amplified if healing from the residential school horrors is really the goal.

Guy Vertinsky

Guy is currently pursuing a BA Honours in Political Science at Concordia University in Montreal. His main interest areas are Canadian and Latin American politics. He enjoys studying the political setting and dynamics of various group relations, movements and intergovernmental affairs. Guy is the current President of the Canadian Political Society of Concordia University. When he is not working or studying he enjoys traveling, playing sports and the great outdoors.

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