Discovery of Kamloops remains confirmed what they suspected. Now action must match words, says survivor
Federal government 'completely failed' to enact TRC's recommendations: Manny Jules
WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
There have long been stories about children buried at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, says a former First Nations chief and survivor of the institution.
"I heard them from my parents and I heard them from other residential school survivors," said Manny Jules, who was chief of Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation from 1984 until 2000.
"Now that this is out, the mental anguish that my people are suffering right across the country is horrendous," he told The Current's Matt Galloway.
The Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said Thursday that preliminary findings from a survey conducted by a specialist in ground-penetrating radar indicated the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the school.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) documented the deaths of more than 6,000 children as a result of the residential school system, but suggested the figure is likely higher. It recorded and published the names of more than 60 children who died at the Kamloops school, but Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said to the nation's knowledge, the remains found relate to undocumented deaths.
More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend residential schools between the 1870s and 1990s, a project of church and government established to "take the Indian out of the child." The TRC's final 2015 report described the system as "cultural genocide."
Jules echoed that finding, calling the residential school system "a criminal act bordering on genocide that was perpetrated on little children, defenceless children."
He said his parents were at the Kamloops school in the 1940s, where his mother Delores Jules "lived in fear." His father, the late chief Clarence Jules Sr., told his son about being beaten for speaking his own language. His father also described how the children were always hungry.
"He always wondered why, because there was lots of eggs, lots of beef, lots of produce, but the kids didn't get it — and they could sure see the staff and everyone else eating well," he said.
Jules attended the school as a day student from 1959 to 1967. At the time, the only schools available to Indigenous children in the area were the Kamloops school and the Catholic St. Ann's Academy, he said.
He remembers one day when he was eight or nine years old, hiding in a toilet cubicle with other children who had skipped mass.
"One of the brothers came in and, you know, pummelled us around the head," he said.
"The heinous thing was we were punched on the head. We weren't punched anywhere else. And of course, that's because there would be no evidence for it."
The school was in operation from 1890 to 1969, when the federal government took over administration from the Catholic Church to operate it as a residence for a day school. It closed in 1978.
On Monday, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed sorrow for the lives lost and pledged "to continue walking side by side with Indigenous Peoples in the present, seeking greater healing and reconciliation for the future."
Jules said he wants an apology from the Catholic Church. Similarly, he said his community wants to see "concrete solutions" from elected officials.
"They don't want to hear platitudes, they don't want to hear, 'Let's talk about healing.' This is time for government action."
Minister commits to 'concrete actions'
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the federal government wants those affected to know it is committed to "concrete actions to address this terrible wrong."
But Jules and other critics say not enough has been done to enact the 94 recommendations of the TRC's final report, released six years ago this Wednesday. Tracking by the CBC shows 10 have been completed.
Six of the calls to action directly reference deaths at residential schools, including calls to secure and preserve the records of the deaths of children, as well as alerting their families to where they have been buried.
An action plan and/or funding have been proposed for four of those recommendations, but not followed through on. Funding has been supplied for one other recommendation, but no action plan or funds have been committed to number 75, to develop and implement procedures around identifying and maintaining residential school cemeteries.
WATCH | Former students react to the news:
Jules said the federal government "has completely failed" on the issue, and is calling for immediate action on the TRC's recommendations.
Bennett said the federal government has been engaging with communities to make sure the work suits their specific needs, and that progress has been made.
"We now know how they want to do the work and the work that they want to do, and they know that the support will be there from the federal government," she told Galloway.
She pointed to the 2019 budget, which announced $33.8 million to develop and maintain the national residential school student death register and set up an online registry of residential school cemeteries.
Speaking to The Current on Monday, Indigenous advocate Cindy Blackstock said identifying the children is a key part of helping their families.
"These were 215 little kids, as young as three years old, who died alone and in scary situations," said Blackstock, executive director at the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
"The least we could do is find out who they were and what families they belonged to. We need to do that across the country."
Colonialism still 'in the DNA' of government: advocate
Blackstock said the residential school system was borne out of colonialism and dehumanization, which she argued is "still very much in the DNA of the way that the Canadian government operates today."
She pointed to the failure to lift boil water advisories in dozens of First Nations communities; as well as legal challenges to a 2016 Canada Human Rights Tribunal ruling that the federal government discriminates against First Nations children on reserves by failing to provide the same level of child welfare services that exist elsewhere in Canada.
Following the ruling, Ottawa was ordered to pay $40,000 to each First Nations child affected by the on-reserve child welfare system since 2006. But the federal government has argued in court filings that the original case was about systemic discrimination, which required a systemic fix, not individual compensation, which is the purview of class action law. A judicial review is due to be held this month.
Speaking to CBC's The National Monday, Bennett said the children will be compensated, but the government is working to make sure the compensation is done fairly.
WATCH | Carolyn Bennett discusses the federal government's position:
Blackstock's Caring Society, a national nonprofit that supports First Nations child and family service agencies, is one of the First Nations organizations arguing for compensation in the case.
She said that "Canada needs to stop litigating against First Nations kids and residential school survivors today," and that the federal government must match words with action.
"We've seen so many apologies, which were really just done for the abuser — the Canadian government, for example — where they just apologize and they want the public's eyes to walk away from the horrific scene of the abuses," she told Galloway.
"But then they don't change their behaviour and they keep harming another generation of kids. That's not good enough."
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 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.
Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Kate Cornick and Julie Crysler.
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