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EDITORIAL: Reckoning with Residential Schools

The discovery of the remains of 215 children in a mass unmarked grave on the grounds of the former Residential School in Kamloops, B.C. has left many Canadians reeling.
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The discovery of the remains of 215 children in a mass unmarked grave on the grounds of the former Residential School in Kamloops, B.C. has left many Canadians reeling.

The grave of the 215 children was located at the former Residential School in Kamloops after the Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation used ground-penetrating radar about a week ago.

The reactions of shock, trauma, horror and grief from Canadians has been palpable. 

The discovery is forcing the country to once again face the horrifying history of Residential Schools and ask tough questions on how our country can address the schools' traumatic legacy and if enough is being done to help Indigenous communities heal.

The trauma of Residential Schools continues to haunt survivors— Many survivors have frequently indicated there are burial sites around their Residential Schools.

The mass burial site in Kamloops was a secret waiting to be found and is likely just the start of painful discoveries that will be unearthed in the future.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 2008, investigated the Residential School system and its legacy detailed in its nearly 4,000-page report the harsh mistreatment, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse, inflicted on First Nations, Métis and Inuit children that were forced to attend the schools away from their families and communities. Ongoing research by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation shows at least 4,100 died in the schools.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology for Residential School and their lingering harm in Indigenous communities in June 2008.

We have known for long time children were experiencing mistreatment, abuse and dying at Residential Schools. The ultimate goal of these schools was to separate Indigenous children from their families and communities to destroy their culture. 

It is hard to reconcile that these children were going to a place where they would experience harm or could end up dead.

As a country, we have struggled to address these experiences or comprehensively explore the long-standing impacts of Residential Schools.

There are increasing calls to follow through on the 94 actions called for by The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the role they play in moving forward. Out of the 94 calls to action, 10 have been completed and 14 are underway.

In the end, actions speak louder than words, and the Federal Government's ongoing silence is becoming deafening.

Memorials and vigils for the 215 children unearthed in Kamloops have emerged across the country, including in Cochrane and Stoney Nakoda First Nation, honouring the memories of the children who were lost to the Residential School system.

These symbolic actions show Canadians understand these are children who were taken from their families and communities and in many cases did not come home.

The discovery in Kamloops is encouraging Canadian's who have not previously engaged in the history of Residential Schools to begin unpacking their traumatic legacy through learning from and advocating for Indigenous communities.

It can and will be a painful process to undertake learning about a dark piece of Canada's history, but it is vital to ensure a hopeful future for our country and Indigenous communities.

The process of Reconciliation is ongoing and hard work— There is no finish line.

Everyone has a role to play in Reconciliation, and the public outcry regarding the former Kamloops Residential School shows people are willing to open their eyes and learn more.

For those affected by the recent discovery in Kamloops the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24/7 at 1-866-925-4419.