215 Lives Lost: Statement from London and District Labour Council
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
It is with deep sadness that we at the London and District Labour Council recognize that the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation’s discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at the former Kamloops Residential School is horrific and further extends the intergenerational trauma experienced by survivors and their families. This shameful legacy of colonialism and acts of violence and genocide against Indigenous Peoples in Canada must be addressed in substantive ways by the Federal Government and the Ontario Provincial Government, and all of the resources and actions required, including the release of documents by the Roman Catholic Church, must be mobilized so that each and every Indigenous child’s remains are recovered and families can finally have clarity about what happened to their children.
For decades, residential school survivors have courageously shared their stories of atrocities they experienced—including stories of children who disappeared suddenly, children whose deaths they witnessed, children who, in some cases, they themselves were forced to bury.
Residential schools were part of a colonial policy to eradicate Indigenous cultures, languages, and communities. While the last school closed in 1996, intergenerational trauma, ongoing harms and discriminatory practices against Indigenous peoples continue.
We ask that you show your solidarity and recognition of the collective grief and trauma being experienced by Indigenous Peoples all across Turtle Island, by posting signs in your windows, placing children’s shoes on your front doorstep and at sites designated for the commemoration of Indigenous children who never went home, and whose deaths remain a national disgrace. Consider being part of the Heart Garden movement to honour and memorialize the children lost to the residential school system, while expressing a very visible, public call to action for change in this country, and to honour and value the lives of Indigenous children, their families and communities.
Please read and post widely the following statement written by Minhminhs (Little Pigeon) Tina Stevens, member of the Kitigan Zibi Algonquin First Nation, and Secretary of the London and District Council. The London and District Labour Council stands in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, and we renew our commitment to supporting justice for Residential School children and survivors; justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women; and to the Truth and Reconciliation process.
For the past number of days, many Indigenous communities have paused to express their condolences during this devastating time for the First Nations community in Tk’emlúpste te Secwépemc territory and across this land.
Indigenous people across Canada are hurting. We are in pain.
With the recent reports of the discovery of the remains of 215 children in a mass unmarked grave, a demonstrative wave of both shock and sadness has a great impact on the mental health and well being of Indigenous people. The truth has been difficult to accept that, these were children, some as young as three.
It is very clear that the vivid images of the shameful and horrific legacy of residential schools continue to re-surface and to validate the concerns shared by residential school survivors over their sibling who went missing.
Between 1831 until 1996, there were not less than 130 residential schools that were built and operated across Canada. The Kamloops Indian Residential School was one of the largest residential schools and operated from 1893 to 1978. It was initially opened by the Catholic Church until the federal government took it over its operation in the late 1960s. The discovery of the bodies of 215 innocent children, doesn’t represent a tragedy or accident. They represent crimes against humanity and must be treated as such. How many more innocent children lie in mass graves? They were victims of Canada’s war against Indigenous people that took place within the walls and grounds of these colonial institutions. This was and is genocide. We cannot call it by any other name. Children were forcibly taken from the arms of their families and then began the painful process of the removal of their names, culture and language, and how the consequences of these atrocities continue to this day.
Each child has been forever taken from a family and a community that loved them.
This is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. Their lives, their families and their communities have been impacted for time immemorial because of the colour of their skin. Where is the justice? Instinctually, people can sense that these were little children and they died alone, afraid and away from their family. That is not OK.
This intergenerational-based oppression trauma caused by residential schools continues to have heartbreaking and devastating costs to our First Nation communities. The hard truth is that there are many stories out there and they will continue to trickle out and cause sorrow to each new Indigenous generation. No one has ever been held accountable for these atrocities and this permission continues to be the biggest injustice of all.
Justice for these 215 children, their loved ones, their communities and all survivors of residential schools needs to happen now. As part of the Truth and Reconciliation Recommendations, we need to encourage the Senate to pass legislation that designates September 30 as a national day for truth and reconciliation. This date is already widely recognized as Orange T-Shirt Day. By providing Orange T-Shirt Day formal recognition, the healing journey of residential school survivors will honour the families while committing to the ongoing process of reconciliation.
We stand with our Tk’emlups te Secwepemic brothers, sisters and non-binary siblings.
We also grieve the children who are still missing.
We are asking that labour members draw attention to this national incident by honouring and showing your grief, love and acknowledgement for these 215 lives through a display of children’s shoes.