By Mary Spring
We have all read and watched on television the horrifying discovery of the mass grave found at a residential school site in Kamloops BC. That site contained the remains of 215 Indigenous children, some as young as three years of age.
The residential school in Kamloops, B.C. is one of 139 such schools that operated in Canada between 1863 and 1996. In that time period, over 150,000 children were forcibly removed from their families and placed into these “boarding schools”. The parents, in reality, were powerless. In 1920, the Indian Act ensured that attendance at Indian Residential Schools was compulsory for Treaty Status children between the ages of seven and 15.
Children in residential schools were under the “care” of the school staff, churches, and the federal government. The deaths of these 215 children, as well as the mass grave in Kamloops, were never documented by the school’s administration. A grant by the B.C. government helped to pay for the technology required to identify the gravesite. Work is currently being done by the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation, museum specialists, and the coroner’s office.
Canada has a responsibility to deal with the trauma caused by the residential schools. It will not be a simple task as, quite likely, this is just the tip of a very large iceberg. The bodies of the children from such gravesites must be returned to their home communities. We must support the survivors by locating and memorializing the children. Canada needs a national memorial site to recognize the children of residential schools and there should be a national day of mourning each year. Our children and grandchildren must be taught the facts about the residential schools. We all have a responsibility to work harder to learn more about, to advocate for, and to reconcile with Indigenous people.
What can we do locally to show our respect for these children? How can we educate our own children and grandchildren about such trauma? There are a number of ways that this can be done right here in our community.
#Remember 215 is a campaign that everyone can get involved in. Wear an orange t-shirt to show your recognition of the children. Place a teddy bear outside of your front door, much like we placed hockey sticks just three years ago when the Humboldt hockey bus crashed. Plant a tree or a shrub in your yard and name it #215. Our local schools and churches could plant trees, shrubs or perennials that will remind us of the children as years go on.
Submitted by Mary Spring
Sandhill Nursery has joined the campaign. Owners Tim Cantelon and Melissa Key are offering free perennials to the first 50 people (limit one per household) to order via the campaign page on their website—use the promotion code #215. Plant these perennials in your garden and when they return each spring, think of the children.
Our small community cannot solve the enormous problem that has been caused by the residential school system. However, we can recognize that we are aware of the problem, listen to the stories of the survivors, and then work toward not only education, but reconciliation.
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