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BCGEU Indigenous Advisory Committee statement on discovery at Kamloops Indian Residential School - BCGEU

On behalf of the BCGEU Provincial Executive Indigenous Advisory Committee and all Indigenous members of the BCGEU, we express our deepest condolences to the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, the survivors of the Kamloops Indian Residential School and the kin of those who never came home. The BCGEU's Indigenous members across the province, including members of the committee, have shared their stories about the impacts of residential schools on their personal lives and in their communities. We all carry heavy hearts especially at this time.

We know that the discovery made by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc is not an isolated case; with almost 140 IRS operating across the country over 150 years it is inevitable that other mass graves exist on other territories and that they will be found. In fact, survivors of Indian Residential Schools from across Turtle Island (North America) have shared their lived experiences, including stories of graves similar to the one found this week. In Canada specifically, these stories are reflected in The Survivors Speak: A report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) and the transcripts from past reports, such as the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996).

In the coming days and weeks as we grieve and heal together, it is critical that every Canadian understand settler colonialism-including the tragic legacy of the Indian Residential School system-not as a historical event or a closed chapter but as an ongoing reality that continues to damage Indigenous lives and communities from coast to coast to coast. The last IRS was shut down in 1996, but the removal of Indigenous children-and the cycle of harm perpetuated in families and communities denied the opportunity to raise and protect their children-continues to this day. While roughly 150,000 children went through Canada's residential school system between 1890 and 1996, more than 130,000 Indigenous children are currently in Canada's child welfare system. 

As the BCGEU Provincial Executive Indigenous Advisory Committee we call on all levels of government to do the following:

  1. To provide adequate and sustainable mental health and addictions services to Indigenous Peoples on and off reserve in both rural and urban areas of British Columbia and Canada.
  2. To provide First Nations communities with the necessary funding to conduct ongoing searches of the graves of children who lost their lives in these schools in British Columbia and the rest of Canada. 
  3. To fully implement all 94 calls to action from Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (2015); all 231 calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019); including providing adequate funding as well as enforcement, reporting and accountability mechanisms to support implementation . 
  4. To legislate full adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), with full support and collaboration from Indigenous Peoples.

From the BCGEU's more than 82,000 members, we would like to share our message of grief and urge all Canadians to join and support us as this healing carries on. BCGEU members and others who want to show their solidarity can:

  1. Wear orange shirts during the month of June, which is Indigenous Peoples Recognition month, to honour the children and support the survivors and families impacted by the Indian Residential Schools.
  2. Call on your local MLA and MP to integrate the calls to action in the TRC report, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the calls for justice of the MMIWG report into their work, and to advocate for the necessary funding to conduct further searches for grave sites across British Columbia and Canada. Click here to find your MLA and click here to find your MP.

As Indigenous Peoples we have survived government's extraordinary genocidal policies of all levels of government and we will continue to survive, as our ancestors did. We hear the drums in our hearts that give us strength, and we honour the lives of our children who lost their lives and their families across British Columbia and Canada. May they be at peace.