The Indigenous Peoples Day will be “especially significant” in light of the recent discovery of the graves of 215 children at a former residential school in B.C., said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
Bellegarde made the comments in a video prepared for Indigenous People’s Day, marked today.
“The discovery of the residential schools of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, and the attention garnered, has left First Nations People to digest the most recent evidence of genocide against our people, our children,” Bellegarde said.
“While this day is meant for celebration of First Nation, Metis and Inuit cultures, and the many contributions to the fabric of Canada, today must be about a call to action of the greatest kind.”
Everyone, from government to every Canadian, has a role to play, “to honour our shared history and commit to doing better as a country.”
The national chief said that while he was grateful to the many Canadians who had reached out following the discovery of children’s graves at the former Kamloops residential school, he wanted them to take the time to learn more about the impact that residential schools had and continue to have on Indigenous Peoples in this country.
“I ask that you reach out to First Nations people and First Nations communities near you to learn and build relationships with Indigenous Peoples,” Bellegarde said.
“The Government of Canada must respond to any First Nation seeking answers related to their lost children and support the investigative efforts that will promote justice and healing for survivors and all of Canada.”
Bellegarde also called for a reworking of Canada’s child welfare programs that see a disproportionate number of Indigenous children taken from their families, Indigenous women sterilized against their will and “racist, derogatory acts” by health-care professionals.
He urged the federal government to act upon the 94 calls to action identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015.
“There is no more room for discussion or delay. It’s time the Government of Canada fulfill every single call to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
B.C. has not announced any funding to search other residential schools in the province, of which there are at least 17 in total. Ontario has pledged $10 million in funding while Manitoba today announced $2.5 million. There were at least 140 residential schools in Canada, starting in the 1800s and not ending until the last government school closed in 1996.
At least 150,000 Indigenous children were forced into residential schools and while the true death toll remains unknown, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said that at least 3,200 died as a result of physical and sexual abuse, disease, malnutrition and neglect.
The Catholic Church was responsible for running dozens of schools, more than any order religious group. The Vancouver archdiocese operated the Kamloops school from its inception in 1890 until 1945, when it was taken over by the Kamloops archdiocese. That school was run by a Catholic order until 1969, when the federal government took over the facility and ran it as a day school until its closure in 1976.
The head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver has offered “technical and professional support” to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and all other First Nations with to “honour, retrieve and remember their deceased children” sent to residential schools within the archdiocese’s historical boundaries.
However, the Vatican has never offered an apology for its role in the residential school system.