TOMORROW IS National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Both truth and reconciliation are important to move forward. Looking around the region of Interior B.C., local governments of all sizes are working on many types of truth and reconciliation with their adjacent First Nations.
One of the local government’s who seems to have strongly embraced Truth in their process is the City of Quesnel. In a June 1, 2021 council column titled “Accelerating Reconciliation Efforts,” about the discovery of 215 graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, they stated, “The Kamloops revelation should also be a reminder to us that the City of Quesnel was literally built on the bones of the Lhtako Dene.”
The City of Quesnel directly acknowledged that colonization resulted in large numbers of deaths of the Lhtako Dene.
The City of Merritt’s Sept. 28, 2021 statement titled “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation” states, “The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was established as a day of remembrance: an opportunity to recognize the tragic history of loss caused by the Canadian residential school system.”
The City of Merritt statement does not make any statement on death, nor the direct impact of their neighboring First Nations such as Coldwater Indian Band, Lower Nicola Indian Band, Nooaitch Indian Band, or Shackan Indian Band. It stays away from too much truth, and focuses more on reconciliation.
The City of Kamloops’ website has multiple pages about Truth and Reconciliation as well as the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The website includes statements such as “The City was and continues to be heartbroken by the discovery and stands with our friends and neighbours at TteS to offer our support” and “As a community, we must stand together to acknowledge this terrible past and the trauma it caused then and now. It is our responsibility to recognize the truths of this past and to support reconciliation efforts.”
There are no direct words acknowledging how the practises of colonization, including Indian Residential Schools resulted in death. Heartbroken and trauma is as far as the website goes.
Unlike the City of Quesnel, which is forthright and blunt in terms of the impact of settlers, the City of Kamloops website avoids any statements about the impacts of colonization, and more specifically the impact Kamloops had on local First Nations.
On the history page of the City of Kamloops website it states “The Kamloops Reserve land base was established in 1862 under the direction of Governor James Douglas” with no discussion of how the colonizers disposed the lands of the First Nations for the benefit of colonizers without compensation.
The history page also talks about the arrival of the goldrush, ranching and railways, but there is no mention of how incoming settlers impacted local First Nations such as the devasting smallpox epidemic which arrived during the same period that wiped out large numbers of the Secwépemc people.
There are many ways that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation are being honoured across the country. There are orange t-shirts and flags at half mast. There will be drum circles and prayers. Tim Hortons has orange donuts, and CP Rail has an orange locomotive.
Symbolic gestures are important. Just like a poppy on Remembrance Day they immediately connect people. But just as a red poppy means nothing without reflecting on the devastation of wars, so too orange shirts are an empty gesture if the we are not willing to speak about the events that inspired the shirts to be created.
The City of Kamloops and Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc have strong relations built on years of joint meetings and meaningful agreements such as fire protection and wastewater services. There have been huge steps forward on reconciliation.
But truth is also important. Skirting around the impacts of colonization, and favoring vague words over blunt facts lessens the impact of the reconciliation work that has taken place.
The City of Kamloops could learn a great deal from the City of Quesnel. They should follow the lead of our northern neighbor, and be more forthright. It is one thing to acknowledge the pain of the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc and other First Nations. It is equally important to acknowledge the impact of settlers’ actions as well.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.