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  • Tracy Sherlock

BC Teachers call for national period of mourning after children's remains discovered in Kamloops

BC Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring is calling for a national period of mourning after the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school.

The BC Teachers’ Federation is calling on the Canadian federal government to declare a national period of mourning after the discovery of the remains of 215 children who were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School last week by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 First Nation.

“We’ve clearly heard from Indigenous communities that they’ve known all along that many more children died than had been reported, and the federal government must take responsibility for continuing to uncover the truth. There can be no reconciliation without truth,” said Teri Mooring, BCTF president. “The responsibility of searching for these missing children should never have fallen upon the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc people. Canada can and must do better.”

Last week, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 Chief Rosanne Casimir confirmed that the bodies on the grounds of the largest residential school in Canada were found with the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist. The discovery of the bodies verified what her Nation already knew, Casimir said.

“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Casimir said. “Some were as young as three years old.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that at least 150,000 First Nation, Metis and Inuit students were sent to the 139 residential schools between the 1870s and the 1990s throughout the country, separated from their families and their communities, in an attempt by Canada to break their link to their culture and identity. Thousands never returned home.

“These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will,” the Commission found.

The BCTF is calling on the government to declare a national period of mourning, to help and fund other Indigenous communities search the grounds of former residential schools across the country, and to report on the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action about missing children and burial.

Prominent First Nations voices are also calling for action.

“These were children – all belonging to a family and community, and a Nation – who were forcibly stolen from their homes under the authority of the Canadian government, and never returned,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “We call upon Canada, and all of those who call yourselves Canadians, to witness and recognize the truth of our collective history. This is the reality of the genocide that was, and is, inflicted upon us as Indigenous peoples by the colonial state.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the issue in the House of Commons on Tuesday, saying the discovery of the remains of the children is heartbreaking.

“Today, some of the children who were found in Kamloops, and who have yet to be found in other places across the country, would have been grandparents or great-grandparents. They would have been elders, knowledge keepers and community leaders. They are not, and that is the fault of Canada,” Trudeau said. “Saying sorry for the tragedies of the past is not enough. It is not enough for the children who died, for the families or for the survivors and communities. Only with our actions can we choose a better path, and that is what our government will always try to do.”

He promised to remember the legacy of residential schools, strive to do better and to help Indigenous people find their missing children.

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