Like many other Canadians, the leadership and employees of The MEHRIT Centre (TMC) are grappling with the tragic and alarming news about the discovery of a mass unmarked grave of 215 children who attended the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Dr. Stuart Shanker and Dr. Susan Hopkins speak for the organization in extending their sincere and deep sympathies to the families of the victims, to all members of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, and to all Indigenous people whose lives have been devastated by Canada’s residential school system and the systemic injustices and racism towards Indigenous people.
It is important for all Canadians to understand and acknowledge that, from 1883 to 1996, nearly 150,000 Indigenous children were removed from their families and sent to residential schools in different parts of Canada. These residential schools were government-funded, church-run institutions, designed as part of a systemic strategy to assimilate Indigenous children into mainstream Canadian society. While kept at these schools, Indigenous children’s identities and languages were denied and suppressed. Many endured neglect, and physical and sexual abuse. It has been estimated that more than 4,100 Indigenous children died while attending residential schools. The horrifying discovery of this unreported mass grave reveals that the true death toll may be much higher, as Indigenous people been saying for years.
“Trying to imagine the suffering of these children and their families is excruciating,” says TMC Executive Director, Dr. Susan Hopkins. “Imagine your child taken away without your consent. Imagine all the children gone from your community and you are helpless to do anything about it because you have no rights. Imagine that some children come home but your child doesn’t. Imagine hearing and telling stories of the many children who never came home and no one believes you enough to look for them. Imagine telling your truth to the TRC and then waiting for many of the reconciliation recommendations to come off the pages of a report and be actioned. Then organizing as a community to find your own truths and answers. There is no reconciliation without truth.”
Susan continued, “I wanted my daughter to know what happened and I started the conversation by listening to the words of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir. Siena asked me a question that maybe we should all be asking now: why are we learning about residential schools and talking about them as an event in the past when this is happening right now?” TMC Founder, Dr. Stuart Shanker, adds, “We need to mourn. We need to heal. And we need to dedicate ourselves to a better future.”
The MEHRIT Centre wishes to express its solidarity with and support for all those who are grieving the loss of these and other children who perished in the residential school system. We also support the rights and ongoing concerns of Indigenous people and remain committed to the much-needed process of truth and reconciliation.