In the wake of the discovery of the bodies of at least 215 children in an unmarked grave on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, Kelowna city council began its Monday (May 31) meeting with a moment of silence.
Following the silence, Mayor Colin Basran tabled a motion, which received unanimous support from his council colleagues. It read: “That council direct staff to provide council with an information report on the status on any actions or plans the City of Kelowna is undertaking or can be advancing with respect to truth and reconciliation with our local First Nations.”
“During a week where we felt the grief of losing three young people in our community in a car accident, then to learn about the discovery of 215 children in a mass grave — it’s almost unbearable,” said Basran, referencing the death of three Kelowna Secondary School students in a car crash on May 26.
Coun. Loyal Wooldridge reiterated his support for the mayor’s motion and acknowledged that “We operate in a colonialized system.”
“What we all have to remember as we move through reconciliation as settlers is that we need to commit to action — not just words and statements,” he said.
Coun. Gail Given echoed Wooldridge’s sentiment, saying she couldn’t imagine the pain of the reopened wounds the local Syilx community experienced.
“You can say you’re grieving and you’re sad and send your sympathies, but really, if this isn’t a call to action, I don’t know what is.”
Westbank First Nation issued a statement on the tragedy Monday, offering its grief and condolences.
“To our members, community members, staff members, and all those whose pain has been triggered by this horrendous act, please know that we stand with you,” said WFN.
“From what was shared, there are many more communities that have members who attended Kamloops Indian Residential School and, in acknowledgement, council stands in support of all communities affected by this tragic uncovering of truths which we as Indigenous people have known and felt for generations.”
Indigenous children from many Interior B.C. communities were sent to the Kamloops Indian Residential School, the largest school in Canada’s Indian Affairs residential school system, where the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed the discovery last Thursday (May 27). Chief Rosanne Casimir called it an “unthinkable loss that was spoken about, but never documented.”
“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Casimir said. “Some were as young as three years old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children.”
The RCMP is working with Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community leaders in determining the next steps and the best way to be involved, while at the same time being supportive, respectful and culturally sensitive to the Indigenous communities that are impacted.
– With files from Kamloops This Week
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