The kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem) First Nations is calling upon the public to “educate themselves” about Canada’s Indian Residential School system in the wake of revelations that the graves of 215 school children were found outside a former residential school in Kamloops.
In a statement, Chief Ed Hall and councillors George Chaffee and John Peters called upon residents to learn how the residential school system affected Indigenous people, “both here in our community and across our nation.”
“The hopes that this tragedy leads to positive change and respect for all First Nations,” the council noted in a statement.
The request comes in reaction to news that the bodies of 215 children were discovered in a mass grave next to a Kamloops residential school and echoes the sorrow expressed by Tri-City residents, city councils, and the school board who shared comments and stories on social media posts and in letters and statements.
Flags were lowered “until further notice” at the Coquitlam school board office as well as at Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody city halls and federal buildings while B.C. teachers called for support of Indigenous communities and citizens demanded vigils and government action.
SCHOOL DISTRICT TO REACH OUT TO INDIGENOUS STUDENTS
School District 43 (Coquitlam) said it would consult local First Nations on the best way to reach out to Indigenous students who may be affected by the news of the recent find.
And tomorrow, Thursday (June 3), students will be encouraged to watch a video prepared by the Indigenous Education Department for a reflection and honouring of "the forgotten," while age-appropriate materials will be provided to students to help them with understanding the residential school situation.
There are approximately 1,300 Indigenous students in the school district.
On Monday, Coquitlam councillors expressed their emotions with a moment of silence.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart wore an orange shirt signifying “every child matters” and led the city’s council meeting in a minute of silence. He called the deaths “horrific” in a Facebook post and decried a “system that allowed them to be hidden away for decades.”
Chief Hall and council members of the kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem) also held a minute of silence in honour of the missing children.
“Our nation — like all First Nations across Canada — has been affected by Canada’s residential school system. This is a very sensitive subject for us as leaders of the kʷikʷəƛ̓əm Nation as our members still carry the pain with them and are working towards healing and reconciliation,” the council said in a statement.
“No mother or father should have to endure having their children taken away from their homes which is what Canada’s residential school system did to our people.”
GROUND-PENETRATING RADAR LOCATED MASS GRAVE
The remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were found buried on the site of what was once Canada's largest Indigenous residential school.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation said in a news release that the remains were confirmed with ground-penetrating radar last week.
Port Coquitlam and Port Moody mayors also expressed their concerns about the tragic news in Facebook posts this week.
The BC Teachers’ Federation, meanwhile, is calling for “decisive action” from the federal government to support First Nations in their efforts to identify and acknowledge unmarked burial sites near residential schools in their communities.