Calls for accountability over Kamloops residential school discovery
Published Saturday, May 29, 2021 6:23PM PDT Last Updated Sunday, May 30, 2021 5:28PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- A B.C. Indigenous woman is calling for the Catholic Church to be held accountable for the mass grave discovered in Kamloops, B.C.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced Thursday the remains of 215 children had been discovered at the site of a former residential school. They were found over the Victoria Day long weekend using a ground-penetrating radar.
Gulgiit Jaab is from the Haida Nation and told CTV News Vancouver on Friday she went to a residential school near Quesnel, B.C.
Reacting to news of the Kamloops discovery, she said: “Like so many of us survivors, we were in shock. When you hear this, it’s very devastating, very devastating. I cried, you know, because that could have been one of us.”
Jaab joined the memorial in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery Friday night, where 215 pairs of children’s shoes were placed on the steps. She spoke passionately about what she believes should happen next.
“Those churches need to be held accountable, they need to be,” she said. “They should be charged. Every one of those institutions should be charged. It’s not negotiable anymore. It’s murder. Murder is murder. Call it what it is.”
Archbishop J. Michael Miller with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver reacted to the news with a statement on Facebook, saying he is “filled with deep sadness.”
“The pain that such news causes reminds us of our ongoing need to bring to light every tragic situation that occurred in residential schools run by the Church. The passage of time does not erase the suffering that touches the Indigenous communities affected, and we pledge to do whatever we can to heal that suffering,” the statement says.
Some of the school’s history has been recorded by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. According to the archives, in 1910, the school’s principal said that the government did not provide enough money to feed the students properly. In 1924, a portion of the school was destroyed by fire.
There were 51 deaths officially recorded at the school.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation is now working with the Royal British Columbia Museum to see if any other records of the deaths can be found.
The band's chief, Rosanne Casimir, told CTV News on Friday that, to her community's knowledge, the children's deaths are undocumented.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is the director of UBC’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. She says the entire residential school system is a human rights violation.
“The human rights dimensions of this have not yet been fully accounted for and there’s more work to be done here to address the legacy of these schools,” Turpel-Lafond said. “A mass grave is a crime scene, a mass grave is a place where there’s probably evidence of gross human rights violations.”
She says Canadian governments need to have “frameworks in place” to deal with the discovery of graves at residential school sites.
RUMOURS OF A GRAVEYARD
Eighty-four-year-old Emma Baker was a student at the Kamloops residential school. She says there were always “rumours” about a graveyard.
“There was a big orchard there and we used to make up stories of the graveyard being in the orchard,” Baker told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “There was rumours of a graveyard, but nobody seemed to know where it was and we didn’t even know if it was true.”
When asked about what it was like to attend school there, Baker responded: “It was like being in jail. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere and if our family wanted to visit they could do that once a week.”
Baker says an apology from various levels of government “doesn’t mean anything,” adding she wants people to know what students experienced.
“It was all hush-hush by the priests and the nuns, and I want the whole world to know what we went through,” she said.
May 30: This story has been updated to correct Emma Baker's age. She is 84 years old, not 87 as previously reported.