The Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) is calling on the federal and provincial governments to remove and replace three day-school buildings on band land, all of which they consider part of the country’s residential school legacy.
Like other First Nations across the country, OKIB members are working through trauma associated with the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at the former site of a Kamloops residential school.
Symbolic displays of solidarity have abounded since the discovery was made public by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in B.C. on May 27.
But having listened to local members, the OKIB wants to see a more concrete change.
In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday (June 8), OKIB Chief Byron Louis said the band has identified three structures that are “symbols of trauma and pain that our community can no longer be asked to endure.”
“As the trauma of the discovery of the 215 children’s bodies at the Kamloops Residential School continues to ricochet throughout our community, we are calling on you and your government to take specific actions to ensure the decolonization of our homelands,” states Louis’ letter on behalf of OKIB council.
The three structures identified for removal and replacement are:
• The former day school at Six-Mile Creek, which is still used by OKIB students;
• The OKIB band office (former Irish Creek day school); and
• The first Six-Mile Day school, now called New Horizons, where OKIB elders still congregate.
“We have come to this decision because we recognize the harm from intergenerational trauma these buildings have caused. If we are to heal as a community our members can no longer be forced to drive by these buildings that serve as a reminder to our colonial history and that continue to dredge up horrific memories of abuse suffered at the Indian day schools. We want to replace these buildings with spaces that foster healing and the mental well-being of our community,” reads the OKIB’s statement.
Chief Louis said the band used its own resources to construct the three buildings, as its councils at the time were faced with an impossible choice: “send our children to Kamloops or Cranbrook to suffer abuse, or build our own schools where, in the case of the Six-Mile School, students were forced to endure many forms of cruel punishment that has left them traumatized ever since.”
The OKIB holds Canada and the Roman Catholic Church accountable for the “atrocities committed against our people,” the letter states, while imploring the Trudeau government to follow the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and replace “these sites of pain, suffering and memory” with places of healing.
“We expect to hear from the appropriate ministry staff on how Canada is willing to assist our community with turning the page on this painful period of Canadian history.”