JOHNSON – Residential school – What matters now is how we own this


THROUGHOUT THE YEARS, Kamloops has had brief moments in the Canadian limelight for one thing or another, but because of last year’s Snowbird crash and the passing of Capt. Jennifer Casey and the injury of Capt. Richard MacDougall in our Brocklehurst neighbourhood and the ensuing investigation, Kamloops was seen nationally on the news numerous times, and a few international news sources also ran the story.

David Johnson.

Without a doubt, a horribly unfortunate incident and it is because of the way we are here in Kamloops that the outpouring of concern and grief from the community was, and is still being felt and appreciated by the Snowbird team and the RCAF.  We showed who we are in the wake of that tragedy, and it was noticed … even if the news cycle moved along elsewhere.

This week it happened again, at a whole different level, with the announcement regarding the remains of 215 indigenous children discovered at the Kamloops Residential School.  It is because of the history of this school, and all Canadian residential schools in general, paralleled by many countries confronted by their own past of indigenous people’s treatment, this became world news … and everyone picked up on it.

Not only has Canadian media focussed on it as a leading story, but media around the world has as well.  Kamloops is becoming known in conjunction with the larger story of historic indigenous mistreatment.

The BBC ran with it as a lead national story in the UK as well as on its BBC World News radio and online division.  Australia’s ABC News and other national media outlets focussed on it; South Africa, New Zealand, and throughout Europe and Asia and even Reuters World, headlined the story.

The story has rebounded around the planet, and the word Kamloops is attached to it

Throughout the world there are so many places with histories where colonial-based destruction of native, aboriginal or indigenous cultures still plays an important role in the lives of these people, and a story like this is yet another wake-up call for those affected to again reconsider their own tragic histories, and the conversation starts up again.

We in Kamloops obviously didn’t expect to be shoved into the world news cycle on this or any social issue, but that happened.  For people around the planet opening their newspaper, turning on the news or scrolling the internet, the word Kamloops has become synonymous with this issue, and will likely remain there for a very long time.

This is the hand we have been dealt, it is not an enviable position, and we could easily say that we would prefer to be known for something more positive … but there it is.

On the other side of the coin, to be known for something negative and controversial can be a good thing, if we rise to the occasion.  Our small city has been given the opportunity to temporarily be at the forefront of this larger issue while the news cycle spotlight is still pointed our way … and I think this is something we can embrace as a community and as individuals.

All that matters is how we own this

What can we do?  If you go to work or school or are regularly engaged with adult members of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, take a moment and share in their grief and if they choose to, let them speak to it and be heard.

Obviously, we need to be aware of the fragility and sensitivity of the person we are speaking to, and a simple ‘Im thinking about you’ maybe is all that is appropriate.  For many others, it might mean a lot just to be listened to.

As well, go to services that are open to the public and silently show support.  Drop off a teddy bear, flowers or messages on the south side memorial location at the school.

Post, forward or retweet online support messages as well as share links to mental health services that have been made available to people grappling with the emotions once again stirred up.

As a larger community our leaders can speak to media, work with attached organisations to provide whatever is needed, but it’s on us individuals, one on one … to just be there … for people many see as our neighbours, but are actually a significant part of our definition of just who a Kamloopian is.

Between friends, the river is not a border.

It is up to governments to deal with, role out and function ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ as the platform for their work in dealing with this history in Canada, as well it’s their job to lower flags at times like these, but it’s up to each and every one of us as individuals in Kamloops … to make it work on the ground for our friends and neighbours that live among us and across the river.

The real ‘Truth’ is when we take the time to just listen to one story from a person who lived through it, or their family member whose life has been generationally affected by residential schools … and the ‘Reconciliation’ is when they can see that they were actually heard and know that their story matters to us.

This doesn’t make any of this easy to do, this is hard.

At the same time … its pretty simple … we all know how to actively listen.

And if this spotlight on Kamloops continues for a while, and we show who we are and how we deal with it, maybe … just maybe, across Canada and in distant countries also dealing with this kind of history, our approach will be seen and may help to inch ahead these hard conversations in a healthier way, in their own world.

In other words; we may not even need to do anything different, just be who we are.
Our example alone may help people in far away lands.

If support is needed:
Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) – Crisis line is available 24/7
for those that may need counselling support.


David Johnson is a Kamloops resident, community volunteer and self-described maven of all things Canadian.

About Mel Rothenburger (9357 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

2 Comments on JOHNSON – Residential school – What matters now is how we own this

  1. Tony Brumell // June 4, 2021 at 2:16 PM // Reply

    Well said David !
    T and R has been an utter failure so far, What with Trudeau denying any Gov’t responsibility and
    and the Oblates refusing to release the historic documentation but squirrming out of the issue with puffy words and the RCMP insisting that they played no roll either it’s no surprise that T & R has largely failed.
    I believe that other countries that had Residential schools will now do their own GPR surveys and the totality of the Colonization road (world wide ) will become evident. Australia , New Zealand , South Africa (ETC) all had similar systems and the search must cover all such institutions.
    Our hearts go out to those survivors and the future must include a reconning for all who were negatively involved. I remember the term “Never Again ” I wonder if we will ever attain that condition. We use it every time some incredible new attrocity is discovered.

  2. The ugly truth is, token efforts are effortless meaningless PR BS…akin to going to church on Sunday to “redeem” a week’s worth of sins. But it is not the sins in need of redemption in as much as it jt the pattern that needs a revolution. The mindset needs to change to accept personal and cultural differences between all of us…reconciling means accepting.

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