Statement of the Faculty of Law on the Kamloops Indian Residential School Discovery
The Bora Laskin Faculty of Law stands with the families and communities whose children’s remains were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, and with the families and communities of the many children who are still unaccounted for. We mourn with them, and we share in their grief, their outrage, their anger, and their calls for justice. We rededicate ourselves to our special mandate in Indigenous and Aboriginal Law, to being good treaty partners and to transforming law to seek reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
We are inspired by the leadership of the Anishnawbe Omaa-Minowaywin (AOM), the Indigenous stewardship committee of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, and we echo the words of AOM Chair Celina Reitberger who noted:
It is with broken heart that we learned about the discovery of the bodies of 215 Indigenous children buried at the residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. Our prayers are sent to the Creator on behalf of the families and nations who have yet to learn the identities of the missing. One can only imagine the suffering those sweet innocent ones endured and the suffering to come for their families who survive them. This can be a teaching moment -many allies will have questions. It is important to underline the true horrors of the Residential Schools. It now qualifies as a genocide.
We echo what AOM member Deputy Chief Derek Fox of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation stated:
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these youth and the entire Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community. Even after all these years there are new tragedies of the Residential School system coming to light. We commend the Knowledge Keepers and the families for their perseverance to uncover the truth behind the terrible loss of these young children. This discovery shows how the legacy of the Residential School system continues to impact the lives of Residential School survivors and the families of those who never returned home.
We echo what Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation stated:
Once again, we are confronted by the genocide in this country against our Peoples. A loss of this magnitude cannot be quantified. Every child lost had a family who loved them and a future cruelly denied to them by the heinous nature of the residential schools. […] Our Peoples are grieving, in mourning for the children we have lost – not just at Kamloops school but at all the schools across Canada where our children died and their deaths were left undocumented. Nothing was said or recorded. No police investigations took place. We call on Canada to come clean. They must treat the deaths of our children as they do any other child in this country and full, unhampered or biased probes must occur that involve Indigenous experts and authorities. There can be no more hiding. Our children and families deserve justice and truth.
We echo the remarks made by AOM member Grand Council Chief Glen Hare of the Anishinabek Nation:
Today is a very sad, difficult day in the shared history of this Nation. I offer my most heartfelt condolences and prayers to the families of those 215 children whose remains were recently discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. It is unfathomable that the people of Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation had to do the emotionally and physically scarring work to unearth the remains of their ancestors – victims of undignified, cruel, inhumane, genocidal crimes covered up not long ago.
We echo the statement made by AOM member Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh of Grand Council Treaty #3:
I am outraged, saddened, and completely heartbroken upon hearing the news. This story has resonated with people from across the country because every First Nation person has been impacted, whether directly or from the intergenerational trauma inflicted by residential schools. The trauma inflicted by the Residential School System is still impacting our communities to this day.
We echo the statement released by AOM partner, the Métis Nation of Ontario:
The Government of Canada tried to undo and eliminate what made us who we are; our languages, our cultures, our beliefs and the very family and community structures that made our communities what they were. Our very presence here today shows they failed in their ultimate goal. Still, many of our community members were forever hurt and changed, and some never came back to us. The remains of these 215 children just discovered represent many, many hundreds more who are as yet missing. As others have pointed out, 215 children means 430 parents and 860 grandparents never knew what happened to their loved one. It means innumerable aunties, uncles, siblings, and friends who all felt that immense loss. And these 215 children are from just one of the 139 residential schools and dozens of boarding and day schools where these tragic losses have yet to be acknowledged or identified. That collective pain did not go away. It continues to resonate today and has manifested itself in many ways. It is compounded by generations of crippling poverty and loss, the 60s scoop, and the ongoing reality of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit people. This is but a glimpse into the profound pain that is still felt by Métis, First Nations and Inuit communities. This tragic news reminds us that the Federal government, the provinces, the churches and Canadian society still have a long way to go to arrive at true reconciliation with Indigenous nations across this land.
We echo the remarks made by Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin of Bearskin Lake First Nation:
As Indigenous leaders, we are deeply saddened by this tragedy- and, while we have our own stories to tell about the trauma we suffered in the schools established here- we will use July 1st, 2021 to honour the innocent defenseless children who died in the Kamloops Residential School.
We support the comments made by Brigette Lacquette of the Canadian Olympic hockey team:
Residential School isn’t just a conversation that we should have once a year around Orange Shirt Day. We are living through the legacy of pain and suffering endured by the elders within First Nations communities every single day. We continue to see the horrors of residential schools in the issues prevalent among First Nations communities. This is not just “A dark chapter in Canadian History”— it is the foundation of my life, my family’s life and my peoples lives.
We acknowledge the observations made by Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay:
I say this as someone who went through the Catholic school system. As a white child I never saw a classmate thrown down the stairs and killed. I never saw children sexually assaulted. I never heard about children being buried in hidden unmarked graves. And yet these things happened to First Nation children. The institutions, orders and government that allowed these crimes to occur have never been held accountable. This must change.
We also express our condolences and sympathies to Professor Nancy Sandy and other survivors of KIRS, and we echo her reflections so soon after this tragic discovery:
The news of the 215 bodies of children discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential comes as no surprise to all of us who heard the secrets passed from one mouth to the next; from one generation the next. Many Indigenous people died holding onto their secrets because no one would believe the atrocities they witnessed in the dark of night, in the shadows, bearing witness to their brother’s or sister’s shame, humiliation, and death with no parent to hear their cries. Our ancestors didn’t lie for they had no reason to, and now the lies kept hidden are being uncovered in the 215 children in the unmarked graves, and multiple that many times over in all the residential schools across Canada. Prepare for the inhumanity of the human beings - the ones whose mission was to kill the Indian in the child, and literally did it in the name of a merciful God and the colonization of our lands.
We burned in humiliation and in life because we didn’t look like you, sound like you, spoke like you or worshipped like you. And for that, our suffering will always be covered with a heavy thick quilt of denial even for those students who were converted yet retain the photographic memory of the atrocities. My mother cried and said “they took all my children away” and cried further still and proclaimed “We are human beings just like everybody else.” I wonder what all the secrets that lay underneath that proclamation.
The Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action 71 to 76 must be implemented without further legal and political manoeuvres to right the historic injustices that continue to resonate with every Indigenous family in their respective nations.
This issue of residential schools is not a historic one; it is a current issue with future consequences. The indescribable effects of personal and intergenerational trauma can never truly be addressed. An urgent need exists for justice and education on this front. The current conditions for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people across this country are not on par with the standards of Canadian society: inadequate schools and food, substandard health care and housing, lack of clean drinking water, and overrepresentation in the child welfare and justice systems are just some of the legacies left behind from the residential school system and the remnants of colonialism present in our current structures and systems. We all have a role to play in truth and reconciliation and a responsibility to do better; we cannot simply mourn, we need to move forward and do more individually and collectively.
Echoing the many leaders and institutions across the nation calling for action, we:
- Call for an annual day of mourning;
- Call on the federal government to carry out exhaustive investigations of all former residential schools sites across the country (beginning with most notorious);
- Call on government to identify and repatriate bodies of all lost residential school children;
- Call on Canada to complete all 94 Calls to Action; and
- Call on Canadian governments to stop fighting survivors in court and to release any relevant documents.
If you need to talk with someone about how you are experiencing and processing this news, there is a national Indian Residential School Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419).
In solidarity with everyone impacted in any way by the Indian Residential School System,
The Bora Laskin Faculty of Law