As we approach the one year anniversary since Kúkpi7 Rosanne Casimir (Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc) announced the preliminary findings of 215 graves of children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School I stood and marked the occasion in a response to a Ministerial Statement delivered by Minister Murray Rankin.
This is an important opportunity to check in on the progress made on the promise of reconciliation and the reality for residential school survivors and their families.
I stand here to mark the one-year anniversary of when we were awoken with the reality of the fate of hundreds, thousands of Indigenous children who disappeared and never came home from residential school. To all our relatives, all our elders, all our residential and day-school survivors, to the following generations of survivors of these genocidal acts perpetrated by this and other Crown governments, I raise my hands to you for your strength, for your resilience, for your patience, for your long suffering, for your willingness to share your traumatic, tragic and heartbreaking stories.
To the children whose names have been lost, misplaced or hidden in the archives of governments and churches, whose shame motivates them to hide you, you may have been conveniently forgotten by the state and by the church, but you’ve not been forgotten by your descendants. We remember you. We love you. I can feel you here with us today. I felt you here earlier this week, and I felt you here last year. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.
Last summer a temporary and impromptu memorial to the 215-plus children whose graves were identified at the Kamloops Indian Residential School and announced by Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Kúkwpi7 Rosanne Casimir grew on the steps of this Legislative Assembly. For months, people stopped to pay tribute to our lost and stolen children who didn’t come home from school.
It’s not easy sitting in this chamber and listening to the intentions of reconciling this reprehensible history, and yet again, when we account for the reconciliatory actions, my heart is broken again and again. This year like last year I was told it was too difficult to recognize Indigenous names on official government documentation. I was told it’s very complex, and government is working on it. There’s more to do.
Last week we heard $800 million is rewarding a museum that has been identified as an unsafe place for Indigenous people, a place that has proven unable to mend its broken relationship with Indigenous people. This new and massive temple will store our innovations, our technologies, our items of cultural significance, our sacred items, while a few Indigenous nations will be tempted with $30,000 to facilitate the repatriation of items that we want to bring home, a process that costs way more than that paltry sum.
In the comments I’ve heard this week, this government has a warped view of what these items mean when they sit in these museum collections. They implore us to join them in front of the glass case, to peer through with wonder at the so-called collective history, awestruck at the curated snapshot in time. On this floor of this chamber, an institutional ignorance has been exposed, an unwillingness to acknowledge the truth that many or most of those items locked away in the museum basements were collected through grave robberies.
Many more of those items were collected by further exploiting destitute Indigenous peoples ravaged by a fatal virus. This was all happening in our province at the same time as the residential schools such as Kamloops were being designed to assimilate the Indian children.
Just as this Crown institution was stealing our cultural items, our innovations and technologies, stealing bones and caskets of our ancestors, they were creating the institutions charged with stealing our children, our languages and attempting to strip us of our identity and culture.
And then, in 2022, we are told that it is different, difficult and confusing to create a font and keyboard for Indigenous people to be called by our names. We are notified that our food and our medicines are pests, sprayed with poison or destroyed by a brush cut to ensure the value of timber is not diminished.
The public is told government is doubling forestry revenues for Indigenous nations. It sounds big, doesn’t it? Yet this government has increased the share from 4 to 8 percent. Maybe, I’m just ungrateful.
But Indigenous people are resilient. We’re proud. We are powerful. No matter what this Crown institution does or has done to us, we stand in here today, gathering strength from deep within our life force, given to us by our Creator and brought to life through our relationship with our relatives. This morning for me it was the islands, the mountains, the trees, the crow, the raven, the rabbit, the deer — all the beauty that feeds our spirit.
We have begun discussions about how this facility and this precinct can better reflect the more than 30 distinct Indigenous languages in this province. As we mark the one-year anniversary of that announcement by Kúkpi7 Casimir, the awakening for many British Columbians has begun. This assembly is surrounded by monuments of our colonial past, and we need a permanent reminder of that memorial that grew on those front steps.
I hope that we can find a way to ensure that every person walking through that ceremonial gate will have to stop and acknowledge those children and what they have come to symbolize with respect to the work of true reconciliation. It’s too easy to walk through these doors without the burden that our predecessors gave us and far too easy to manipulate reconciliation for the benefit of something other than Indigenous people. That is what needs to change. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.