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View From City Hall: Opening our eyes to genocide in Canada

With Tk’emlúps announcing that the children’s remains have been found in unmarked graves, I hope the Roman Catholic Church as a whole gives a heartfelt apology and looks back in its records to hold people responsible.
bill sarai column head view from city hall

I would like to dedicate this column to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and surrounding First Nations bands and address the heartbreaking news of the discovery of the remains of 215 children near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School building.

I would like to send our heartfelt condolences and repeat what our mayor and council have conveyed to the Tk’emlúps Kukpi7 (Chief) Roseanne Casimir, band council and all members of Tk’emlúps and surrounding First Nations.

Growing up in East Vancouver, I had never heard of, or been taught in school about, residential schools and what had happened in them.

My wife and I went to a Western Canada Theatre play in 2019 called Children of God.

It was a play about a Cree First Nations residential school in Northern Ontario.

It was so powerful and opened my eyes to what had happened to the children there.

There was not a dry eye in the theatre.

After the standing ovation, we all walked out in silence, which was brought on by shock and disbelief that this happened in Canada.

This genocide by members of the Roman Catholic Church has never been apologized for by the pope, the head of that religion.

With Tk’emlúps announcing that the children’s remains have been found in unmarked graves, I hope the Catholic Church as a whole gives a heartfelt apology and looks back in its records to hold people responsible.

To my Tk’emlúps neighbours across the river, the past few weeks must have been unbearable for all of you.

I feel it is my duty, not only as a city councillor, but also as a father, to share my emotions.

My heart broke thinking about when and how those children perished, how their parents would have been waiting for them to come home or spent their lifetimes looking for them when they did not return.

That is truly heartbreaking. I have heard from a number of residential school survivors about what they endured.

Being stripped of their religion, culture and language caused them so much trauma.

These survivors were left confused and mentally scarred with identity crisis, shame, self-hatred, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and anger issues — basically all of the “isms” in the dictionary.

Many individuals ended up going to jail when they stood up for themselves or others against injustices like racism, inequality and oppression.

It literally ruined individual lives in this cycle of abuse.

Since 1492, our neighbouring ancestors have endured so much injustice from invasion, genocide, attempted extermination, racism, colonialism, forced assimilation, hatred and abuses of all kinds.

They have been made outcasts on their own lands and looked down upon by people of other races.

I pray for the 6,000-plus children who perished in the residential school system and truly hope the survivors can find comfort, justice and healing moving forward.

I would like to echo our mayor and council’s heartfelt message that we stand with our friends and neighbors at Tk’emlúps and offer our support.

I am committed to doing my part to educate myself and others and to advocate for meaningful action and reconciliation.

Bill Sarai is a Kamloops councillor. Council columns appear monthly in the print edition of KTW and online at kamloopsthisweek.com. Sarai can be reached by email at bsarai@kamloops.ca. To comment on this column, email editor@kamloopsthisweek.com.