Residential School Survivor Society Calls for Action After Childhood Remains Discovered

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

the Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) calls on the federal government and the Roman Catholic Church to take action after the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

On Thursday, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said preliminary results from a ground-penetrating radar survey revealed the remains. Since then, federal government officials and leaders have taken to social media and sent out press releases offering support.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted Friday that the discovery is “a painful reminder of this dark and shameful chapter in our country’s history” and offered his thoughts and support.

Speaking on behalf of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Archbishop J. Michael Miller told CBC News in an emailed statement that the findings filled him with “deep sorrow.”

“The pain caused by such news reminds us of our constant need to bring to light every tragic situation that has occurred in residential schools run by the Church. The passage of time does not erase the suffering affecting affected Indigenous communities, and we are committed to doing all we can to heal this suffering. “

‘Prayers only go so far’

Angela White, executive director of the IRSSS, said the Church and the federal government must act.

“Reconciliation means nothing if there is no action in these words,” she said.

“The wishes and prayers go very far. If we are truly to create positive progress, that capacity has to be to continue the work, as the Residential School Survivors Society is doing, in a meaningful way.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) 2015 report Calls on the federal government to provide sustainable funding to existing and new Indigenous healing centers to address the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual damage caused by residential schools.

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School is seen Friday on the grounds of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops. (Andrew Snucins / The Canadian Press)

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir also expressed the desire to hold the federal government accountable.

“It is all well and good for the federal government to show goodwill and support in the face of the tragedy,” Casimir said in an interview with CBC. Kamloops Daybreak.

“There is significant ownership and responsibility both to Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and to all the communities and families that are affected. And it has to and must happen.”

Calls on the Pope to answer

In a press release, IRSSS co-chair Rick Alec, member of the Ts’kw’aylaxw First Nation, called for action specifically from the Pope.

“My creator asks their God why disciples would do this to us,” he said. “The Pope must answer this question. There is no longer to deny it. Now there is physical evidence of these unmarked graves.”

The TRC report also called on the Pope to apologize to survivors, their families and communities for the role of the Church in the abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in Catholic residential schools.

In 2018, a letter from the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that Pope Francis could not personally apologize for the residential schools.

White of the IRSSS said if the Catholic Church apologized today for its involvement in residential schools across Canada, it would make no sense, as they have had many years to apologize.

She said that acknowledging the history and reality of residential schools validates what survivors have shared for years and is an important part of the healing process.

Assistance available

Support is available to anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools and to those triggered by the latest reports. The IRSSS can be contacted toll free at 1-800-721-0066.

A National Residential Schools Crisis Line has been set up to provide support to former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

In British Columbia, the KUU-US Crisis Line Society provides a First Nations and Indigenous specific crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is toll free and can be reached at 1-800-588-8717 or online at

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