Today I rose to response to the Ministerial Statement on the burial site of Indigenous children at Kamloops Residential School.
I rise today to respond to this ministerial statement. Today my family and the entire B.C. Green caucus team stands with our relatives in the Interior. We wrap our arms around them in love. We share their tears, and we let them know that we’re here for them.
Today I stand in this House to honour those who lost their lives in the residential school system. The words that I’m going to speak today aren’t easy, and they are direct. Like many of my peers, my grandparents, my great aunties and uncles are survivors of Kuper Island Residential School. I know that they’d want me here today honouring the horrors that they lived through by demanding accountability for them.
The resounding story that I heard from Indigenous leaders this weekend is that this is the beginning. We know in our hearts this is the beginning. For the last several years, our Crown governments and society believes that it has been doing the work of reconciliation. After all, many of these stories have already been shared by residential school survivors through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
What needs to be addressed here is our response. Specifically, the urgency and our reaction to what has been and what is being uncovered. It’s not that we haven’t done anything. We’ve started the work. But have we really moved as quickly as you would expect after hearing these horrors?
We know that if these children were not Indigenous but rather European, that we would not have been slow to act. I see on social media my friends and colleagues sharing graphics agreeing that all children matter. Yet deep down, we know that in our society it’s just a fact: in Canada and British Columbia, some children matter less.
We know underneath the shiny, happy facade of Canada and British Columbia, there lurks a grotesque and shameful past. For 30 years, my relatives have been sharing their experiences from these despicable institutions. For 30 years, those stories have been hushed. Our relatives have been told that Canadians and British Columbians don’t want to hear their stories. They’ve been told to stop lying. They’ve been told to stop embellishing.
There was a statement from this institution that noted the “unimaginable proportions” of this tragedy. This is an incredibly unfortunate characterization of the situation that we carry. For Indigenous People, this story is not shocking nor is it “unimaginable.” This is the trauma our families have carried for generations.
When people ask me what our problem is, why don’t we pick ourselves up, they haven’t wanted to hear the answer. As we continue to grapple with missing and murdered Indigenous women and children, hanging red dresses in recognition of our current reality, what is uncovered in Kamloops is the stark reminder that this story line is not new. It has been in the imagination — indeed, in the nightmares — of our relatives for the past 130 years. It is the terror that our ancestors have lived with.
The only reason to call it “unimaginable” would be because these institutions, these Crown governments, federal and provincial governments, and the people that populate these chambers in the past either haven’t been listening to our stories, or they’ve cared less, because it is a reality in our country that some children have mattered less. These are both terrible considerations.There is nothing to imagine for those who have been paying attention. Our elders, our families, have been sharing the grim details of their experiences in residential schools for decades. That is the record of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. You don’t have to imagine it. You just have to believe it and care enough to act with the urgency that you would if it was your child that didn’t return home from school. It’s your kids going to school. Not coming home. Not being there when their parents are there to pick them up.
Duncan Campbell Scott, deputy superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, is often associated with saying: “Kill the Indian, save the man.” Joseph Trutch, whose name is on a plaque right outside that door, British Columbia’s first Lieutenant-Governor following Confederation, is quoted as saying: “I think they are the ugliest and laziest creatures I ever saw, and we should as soon think of being afraid of our dogs as of them.” As historian Robin Fisher wrote extensively in “Joseph Trutch and the Indian Land Policy” of Trutch’s role in dispossessing Indigenous Peoples of their lands, he did it quite extensively.
Residential schools were a critical tool for the process of “killing the Indian,” in Scott’s words. Deliberately breaking up families by forcing children to residential schools was a tool to expedite the process of dispossessing Indigenous People of their lands and resources. RCMP, church officials and Indian agents would show up to Indigenous communities and forcibly remove children, taking them to these deplorable institutions.
There have always been stories in our families of our relatives that didn’t come home, the children that died and were buried there with little or no notification to the families. Unfortunately, even as our society has evolved and is more receptive to hearing and acting on these awful stories, this provincial institution continues to be responsible for unacceptable outcomes for Indigenous People.
I wish I could say that Indigenous children are no longer forcibly removed from their communities. However, I can’t. I wish I could say that Indigenous People were not dramatically overrepresented in fatalities at the hands of police, the criminal justice system, homelessness, suicide, addictions and drug poisoning, all statistics you don’t want to ever be overrepresented in.
The accountability that I talked about earlier needs to be in this chamber as well as outside. Our provincial government must accept responsibility for the role that this Crown institution played in this reprehensible history. This is work that should be advanced by all parties in this chamber, work that could be done by the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. Let’s find ways to engage Indigenous leaders as an assembly to inform our work, because what we’re doing is not enough.
We cannot wait for the federal government to act. We must believe the survivors. We must stop referring to what we know like we didn’t know it. We must stop pretending it was better than it was. We must stop acting like we came by this wealth through honest means, because we did not. This land and the resources this Crown government depends on came from the dispossession of Indigenous People. For decades, this provincial government has benefited from the lands and resources that were secured through residential schools and other disgraceful policies.
In honour of those children buried in unmarked graves, in honour of our families who had a child who never came home from school, we must make those resources immediately available for trauma and healing services — all resources needed to restore our languages immediately available, all resources needed to restore our houses of culture and governance immediately available. It’s time for the representatives in this chamber to stop saying how we can’t do this and start finding ways that we can do it.
I’m so grateful for the incredible public response to this tragedy facing our relatives in Kamloops and the Interior. I’m grateful for the demands from our family and friends and neighbours to ensure that all children matter. We can honour those calls by ensuring government responds as if it were our child that didn’t come home from school. This is indeed a heavy burden, but it’s one we can make all lighter if we carry it together.
HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM. Thank you.