British Columbia

Crisis lines offering support to residential school survivors see spike in calls

Two crisis lines for residential school survivors and their descendants have been inundated with calls after the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said last week it found indications of children's remains near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Indian Residential School Survivors Society has been overwhelmed by calls after Kamloops discovery

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) says it has been interacting with 3,000 to 5,000 people per day since Friday. (Brian A Jackson/Getty Images)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.


Two crisis lines for residential school survivors and their descendants have been inundated with calls after the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said last week it found indications of children's remains near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Angela White, executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS), based in North Vancouver, said the group has been providing support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic through video counselling, phone lines, and email, but they've seen a significant spike in calls in the past few days. 

"We understand that there is a lot of anger, hurt and sorrow out there," said White.

She said the crisis line wasn't prepared when the announcement about the discovery was made last week. 

Since Friday, White said her team has been interacting with 3,000 to 5,000 people per day. 

In comparison, before Friday's announcement, they had 1,500 to 2,000 interactions per month, she said. 

White said some staff went to the site near the former school grounds where a sacred fire is burning in honour of the children to help provide support for residential school survivors who have shown up there.

Extra staff needed

She said the society has 13 staff members and is asking the First Nations Health Authority for more assistance so they can bring on temporary staff.

Angel Graitson, executive director at KUU-US Crisis Line Society in Port Alberni, says her group has also seen a dramatic increase in calls and has brought on extra staff. 

She said the crisis line has received 1,200 to 1,500 calls in the past few days, which is the amount they normally receive in a month.

She said people are looking for answers that crisis line workers can't provide, but the workers can at least lend a "listening ear."

Graitson said, so far, the crisis line has been able to manage to volume of calls, but she is bracing for an increase after the report into the preliminary findings at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School is made public in mid-June.

Minister of mental health offers help

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson said in a statement that her ministry is working with federal and provincial counterparts and is ready to provide help.

"We recognize that trauma-informed mental, emotional, and cultural supports are critical at this extremely difficult time, and I've already conveyed to my counterparts at the First Nations Health Authority that my ministry is ready to provide assistance," said Malcolmson.

The minister explained that the First Nations Health Authority is working closely with community and service providers to ensure mental health resources are available.

Malcolmson pointed out that First Nations want to provide leadership in the wake of the findings.

"First Nations across the province have asked for space to lead the response to the devastating news that came to light last week."

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Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has also been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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