By TODD STONE
MLA, Kamloops-South Thompson
WITH OUR COMMUNITY IN A PERIOD OF DEEP GRIEF, it is difficult to find the right words to convey the shock, sadness and hurt that our Indigenous peoples and, indeed, all British Columbians and Canadians are feeling right now.
But as my colleague Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar put it in the Legislature this week — we must find the words, because we cannot continue the silence that allowed this to happen in the first place.
The discovery of the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School site in Kamloops has shaken us all. Although Chief Rosanne Casimir shared there was “a knowing” in the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community for many years prior to this finding, this tragic confirmation of that ‘knowing’ strikes deep in our hearts.
Each of these children mattered to the families and communities that lost them. Children came to the school from Kamloops and all over the province.
Unthinkably, thousands more may be lost — as this is but one of the many residential schools that operated across Canada. The discovery of these remains in Kamloops will not be the end of the heartache.
We must recognize the strength of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community, under the leadership of Chief Casimir and her band council, who took on this careful work with the help of local Knowledge Keepers who ensured cultural protocols were observed. They have shown tremendous perseverance during this painful search.
What happened inside Kamloops Indian Residential School and other residential schools across the country was reprehensible. These events cannot simply be regarded as history, for they continue to impact survivors and their loved ones to this day.
Knowing this, we must commit to remembering, honouring, healing and learning while re-affirming our steadfast commitment to meaningful reconciliation. And we must do a better job of listening to Indigenous peoples.
That’s why our caucus has written to Premier John Horgan, asking him to activate the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs so that all three parties in the Legislature can work together openly and transparently to accomplish this shared goal.
In addition to continued engagement with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, we believe that the Committee’s mandate should include — at the direction of each of British Columbia’s unique 203 First Nations bands — removing barriers and providing the resources needed to identify and repatriate the remains of children to their home communities, related to residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried.
These proposed actions are just a first step.
I often reflect on a sentence that has been spoken many times by our local Chiefs over the years, quoted from a 1910 Memorial to Prime Minister Laurier by the Chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan and Couteau Tribes — “we will help each other to be great and good.”
As we listen to how Indigenous peoples would like to see reconciliation unfold, that sentiment may be a good place to start.
Todd Stone is the MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson.