June 1, 2021
T’esóts’en (Patrick Kelly), Past Board Chair, and Hayalthkin’geme (Carey Newman), Director of the Victoria Foundation, offer these words on a very troubling situation facing us all as Canadians:
The discovery in Kamloops of the mass grave of 215 First Nations children reminds us again of the brutal nature of Canada’s and British Columbia’s colonial policies and practices directed at First Nations in the formation of the country and the province. These brutal acts would have happened within living memory – within the time of our great grandparents, grandparents, and parents.
As parents and grandparents, we know that children are cherished gifts. This we know to be true for people of all cultures in the world.
Canada’s Indian Act, enacted into federal law by Parliament in 1876 provided for a government policy that required “Indian” children to be forcibly removed from their families at the age of six and brought to one of the 139 Indian Residential schools in Canada. Every September to the end of June each year, First Nation families and communities lost their children to a residential school. Canada contracted with church organizations to run each residential school. The last residential school in Canada closed in 1997. The last one in British Columbia closed in 1983.
How do we honour the death of 215 children? The time has come for all Canadians to wake up to the truth of our collective history. Inspired by his father’s story as a residential school Survivor, Carey’s Witness Blanket carries some of the truth of what happened in those brutal places. The report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recounts the truth of what happened, including more that 4,100 confirmed deaths. Educators at all levels need to help students and citizens know and understand the truth of our collective reality here in Canada. The discovery of the bodies of 215 First Nation children has shaken the moral fabric of many Canadians.
Just as T’esóts’en and Hyalthkin’geme suffer the intergenerational effects in their lives of Canada’s and British Columbia’s colonial policies and residential schools, so does it linger over the lives of all Canadians. There is no denying any longer that genocide of Indigenous peoples is part of our collective history. Because we cherish the lives of our children and grandchildren, we owe it to them as parents and grandparents to show them through our actions that the truth in life matters – that accountability matters. We own a strong moral obligation to demonstrate that we’ve learned from our past. More importantly, we own the obligation to ensure that all children never ever again have to endure the kinds of brutal traumas meted out on First Nations children.
Over the past few years we know that the board of directors and staff of the Foundation have taken progressive steps and are walking the path towards truth and reconciliation. The Foundation invests in the wellbeing of people from all walks of life in our communities.
What do we hope for our children? As First Nation people, T’esóts’en and Hyalthkin’geme hope that our children and grandchildren get to grow to be happy, healthy people. As our Elders have told us, the job of parents is to raise your children to be able to take care of themselves using their knowledge, skills and abilities. If after taking care of themselves they have more than they need, they help their family. If they have more yet, that they help their community. And if they have more yet, they help make the world a better place.
When T’esóts’en asked one of his daughters what she thought that reconciliation meant to her, she said, “Dad, reconciliation means to me that I can be who I am, and that I can become who I want to become.” What parent in any culture in any part of the world would want any different for their child? As human beings, we want to live in a world that is right, fair, just, and good.
Going forward, as Paul Lacerte, a member of the Carrier Nation aptly stated, “We will use love as a form of defiance. We will use love as a revolution.” Let each of us learn the full truth so that we can work together towards reconciliation. Our children deserve that we give it our all.
T’esóts’en (Patrick Kelly), Past Board Chair, The Victoria Foundation
Hyalthkin’geme (Carey Newman), Director, The Victoria Foundation