'Heartbroken and horrified' — politicians react to news of mass grave discovery at Tk'emlups

Politicians at all levels of government responded to the news that the remains of 215 children had been discovered on the grounds near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation.

On Friday (May 28), politicians at all levels of government responded to the news that the remains of 215 children had been discovered on the grounds near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation.

Kamloops mayor Ken Christian called the discovery a “tragedy of epic proportions.”

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“I think it confirms what we have all been hearing about the treatment of indigenous children in the residential school system and we support Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne (Casimir) and council, as they do the very difficult work of repatriating the spirit and the souls of these children to their home communities,” he said.

Christian said he reached out to Casimir on Thursday and extended on behalf of council concern and support.

Christian said the city will help in whatever way it can, upon request. He said the process will be largely managed by the band, which he said has so far not indicated need for anything from the city.

Casimir has indicated potential completion of the investigation at the end of June, Christian said.

“It’s just the kind of thing you wouldn’t wish on any level of government and these are our colleagues right across the river, and so we feel for what they are going through,” he said.

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod spoke in the House of Commons via Zoom on Friday morning.

“Today, our community mourns, along those who suffered this terrible loss, and alongside all survivors of the horrific residential school system, who are undoubtedly forced to remember their trauma upon hearing the news,” McLeod said,

“There’s nothing more painful in life than losing a child. My heart breaks today, thinking of all the loving parents who never saw their children return home and who were never granted the dignity of knowing what happened. This tragedy is yet another reminder of the important work done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and how much more work true reconciliation requires.”

McLeod told KTW that as a parent, the discovery is “horrific.” She said many people in the Kamloops area understood the issue around residential schools, but perhaps didn’t realize the scope of the tragedy.

McLeod said Canada’s minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett, reached out to her on Thursday, indicating the federal government is prepared to offer support. She said minister also reached out to Casimir and others.

“I think survivors who are impacted by this are going to need support, the elders might need support,” McLeod said. “It’s going to be reopening a lot of wounds and the federal government needs to be there for whatever support is needed.”

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone said he woke up on Friday morning, following the news on Thursday, feeling sad.

“I was hit with a tremendous amount of heartbreak and shock,” he said of the news. “Certainly my thoughts and my prayers go to all of the families and loved ones of these 215 children. I can’t imagine how the families are feeling, other than significant amount of grief. I stand ready to support the community, the chief and council and broader community, in any way I possibly can as they work their way through this.”

Stone said the province will need to hear from chief and council about how they feel the province and broader community can offer assistance, noting the Royal BC Museum and British Columbia’s chief coroner are ways in which the province can help.

Stone noted questions remained unanswered for decades about a significant number of missing children who had attended the residential school in Kamloops, which at one point was the largest in the country.

The Missing Children Project came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The project has, to date, identified 4,100 children who died while attending residential school, including 52 from the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

“Obviously, being one of the largest schools, one of the largest residential schools in the country at one time, I think it was well understood by elders and others that there were a number of children who never came home here in Kamloops, either, but little was known,” Stone said.

Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar said it is “heartbreaking” to find what had been rumoured tis indeed fact.

He said the news is devastating to a range of bands, including Tk’emlups te Secwépemc.

Asked what the province can do in the wake in the discovery, Milobar said he will be advocating for support in a way that respects the children who were lost and surviving family members.

“I think it is important that every bit of support needed is there and provided and done in a way that aligns with how the band would like to proceed with things, and really take the lead from them in terms of what they would like to happen,” Milobar said.

“To make sure things are done culturally appropriately and sensitively and to make sure, ultimately, things move forward as a support, not as a direction, from the province.”

Premier John Horgan said he was “horrified and heartbroken” when he heard the news.

"Each child has been forever taken from a family and a community that loved them,” Horgan said in a statement.

“This is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. And it is a stark example of the violence the Canadian residential school system inflicted upon Indigenous peoples and how the consequences of these atrocities continue to this day.

“The Tk'emlups te Secwépemc people have said they are the caretakers of these children, as some would have been brought to the residential school from neighbouring Nations. My thoughts are with the Tk'emlups te Secwépemc and all who mourn, as they enact their cultural protocols to notify First Nations communities whose children were sent to this school."

Horgan said Tk’emlups te Secwépemc will complete the investigation in the coming weeks, including notifying First Nations communities from where children were sent to the school.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared his thoughts on his Twitter account:

“The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart,” Trudeau wrote. “It is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history. I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you.”

Support services are available for those affected by this news:

• A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former residential school students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.

Within B.C., the KUU-US Crisis Line Society provides a First Nation-s and Indigenous-specific crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, toll-free from anywhere in British Columbia. The KUU-US Crisis Line can be reached toll-free at 1-800-588-8717. Alternatively, call direct into the Youth Line at 250-723-2040 or the Adult Line at 250-723-4050. Online help is at https://www.kuu-uscrisisline.com/ (https://www.kuu-uscrisisline.com/)

Support services are available for those affected by this news:

• A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former residential school students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.

Within B.C., the KUU-US Crisis Line Society provides a First Nation-s and Indigenous-specific crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, toll-free from anywhere in British Columbia. The KUU-US Crisis Line can be reached toll-free at 1-800-588-8717. Alternatively, call direct into the Youth Line at 250-723-2040 or the Adult Line at 250-723-4050. Online help is at https://www.kuu-uscrisisline.com/ (https://www.kuu-uscrisisline.com/)

© Kamloops This Week

 


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