B.C. teachers to wear orange shirts in memory of kids whose bodies were found at Kamloops residential school
VANCOUVER -- Many teachers across the province will be dressed in orange this week to pay tribute to the 215 Indigenous children whose bodies were found in a mass grave at a former Kamloops residential school.
It’s one of several small gestures that’s being encouraged by the B.C. Teachers' Federation this week to honour the victims and their families.
“It's time we did more than just adopt policies and adopt the calls to action, we need to now see that action in practice, we're calling for that in our school system,” said Teri Mooring, president of the BCTF.
Wearing an orange shirt is a common way that people show solidarity and raise awareness about residential schools.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced Thursday that the children's bodies had been discovered buried near the school. The school was the largest residential school in B.C. and operated from 1890 to 1969. The presence of the grave site was confirmed through the help of special ground-penetrating radar.
“It’s confirmation of what Aboriginal people have told us for decades … it’s undeniable, and this is confirmation of the brutality and the awful measures that were taken at these schools,” Mooring said.
In response to the announcement, an Indigenous education worker who teaches at Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Vancouver says she wants to see more action to address the legacy of residential schools.
“When Canada had apologized to indigenous people, that was years ago. Things could have been done even with the truth and reconciliation. I wish there could be more. There has to be more,” said Suzi Bekkattla.
One positive action could be to hire more Indigenous teachers to work in B.C. schools, she said.
“We have teachers that are Indigenous teachers that could be working in every school across the district. And I wish that could happen,” Bekkattla said.
Across the country, institutions have announced that they will be flying their flags at half-mast. Representatives from several First Nations and Indigenous organizations are calling for action and accountability from governments and the Catholic church, which operated the school.
The union made the decision to take action at a meeting on Friday, Mooring said. It is also encouraging schools to fly their flags at half staff this week and have conversations with their students about the racism Indigenous people have endured and continue to face in Canada.
“It's incumbent upon us as a society to ensure that we teach our children the truth about what happened there, and to act. Because systemic racism is endemic in all our institutions in B.C. and in Canada,” Mooring said.
Some advocates have said that the gesture of wearing an orange shirt is a good start, but B.C.'s curriculum needs to do a better job of educating future generations about the province’s racist past.
The BCTF is calling for anti-racism and trauma-informed practice training throughout the entire school system beginning in September. Such training would apply to teachers as well as administrators, superintendents and school board trustees.