TW: The message below contains language about residential schools and death of children.
To the King’s community,
On the weekend, a brief statement was posted on social media to announce our decision to lower our flags for 215 continuous hours to mourn and honour the 215 children who were found last week to be buried on the grounds of Kamloops Indian Residential School. In that statement, the mass grave of these children, some as young as three years old, was described as “a moment of shame and sorrow for all Canadians”.
In recent days, there have been many lengthier statements by universities, political leaders and other leaders and institutions expressing grief and solidarity with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, Indigenous people across the country, and the survivors of residential schools. We want to acknowledge and join in these statements, including the statement issued on behalf of Dalhousie, our associated university, by President Deep Saini, Provost Frank Harvey and Vice-Provost Theresa Rajack-Talley. We were particularly moved by the very direct statement issued by Mr. Paul Davidson, the Chief Executive Officer of Universities Canada, which reads:
“I found the confirmation that the remains of 215 children had been located in a mass grave at the residential school site, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc in Kamloops stomach churning. Sadly, it is not news. First Nations people have spoken of this and other atrocities for decades. Being confronted with the evidence challenges our own concept of Canada and who we are as Canadians. This did not happen somewhere far away. It did not happen a long time ago. It is not that we have not been told about this. It is not the only mass grave. The pain being felt across the country is real. I encourage everyone to listen to the survivors and to First Nations community members. We cannot let a tragedy of this scale be swept up and away by a 24 hour news cycle that provides blanket coverage and moves on. Public symbols and actions of grief are important, but they are not sufficient. Our work toward Truth and Reconciliation continues. It begins with Truth. Hard truths. Institutional truths, family truths, individual truths.”
Paul is right to emphasize that we would not be surprised by the horror that has been “discovered” in Kamloops if we had truly listened to and heard what Indigenous people have been telling us about what their children experienced in residential schools, not in ancient history but in the lifetimes of many of us. As the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs emphasized in their condolences released earlier this week, “With so many schools across the country, we are very aware that this is not an isolated incident.”
As a member of Universities Canada, King’s has been committed on paper since 2016, through the organization’s Principles on Indigenous Education, to implementing the calls to action set out for universities in the 2015 Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We should all re-read this report and its Calls to Action. We have taken some important and promising actions and we want to acknowledge and thank all who have contributed to these actions. But we have not as a university community taken robust and comprehensive action.
In the months ahead, we are poised to create our first action plan on equity, diversity and inclusion that must include substantive implementation of the TRC calls to action at King’s. We must do this work with determination that it will, better than our words or symbolic actions can, honour the 215 children found buried in Kamloops, and all the children who will be found buried on the grounds of other residential schools, as well as their families and communities, and all who live with the intergenerational trauma and lasting legacies of the residential school system. Anything less will make our words of sorrow, grieving and solidarity empty and meaningless.
A National Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866 925-4419. Members of the King’s community can seek various support services accessed through the King’s website. The Elders of The Elders in Residence program at Dalhousie are available to the King’s community for guidance, counsel and support. And the Indigenous Student Centre, also at Dalhousie, is there to support King’s as well as Dalhousie students.
At King’s we believe in the power of the written word to lead us to deeper understanding and empathy. In this month dedicated to Indigenous history, we suggest reading works of Mi’kmaq, other First Nations, Inuit and Métis authors. If you are looking for recommendations try the King’s Co-op Bookstore.
To the Indigenous members of the King’s community, we cannot know your agony but we are united in grief and commit to action and change.
William (Bill) Lahey
President and Vice-Chancellor
Dean of Students