In the wake of this past week’s appalling discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, we might well make a distinction between horror (of which there should be plenty), and surprise (of which there should be none). During the oral testimony given during the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, we heard again and again of children who went missing, or who never returned home; of children whose deaths were not even documented. 215 is but a fraction of the 4,100 children who died in our care. Sadly, I am afraid that Kamloops is but the first of many such discoveries to come. It is helpful to refresh our memories on the relevant “calls to action” issued by Justice Murray Sinclair’s final report (2015). Please click here to review the TRC’s 6 calls to action on Missing Children and Burial Information, as well the four calls to action addressed to the churches. How do you think we are doing?
Missing Children and Burial Information
71. We call upon all chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies that have not provided to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada their records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities to make these documents available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
72. We call upon the federal government to allocate sufficient resources to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to allow it to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
73. We call upon the federal government to work with churches, Aboriginal communities, and former residential school students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children.
74. We call upon the federal government to work with the churches and Aboriginal community leaders to inform the families of children who died at residential schools of the child’s burial location, and to respond to families’ wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, and reburial in home communities where requested.
75. We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students, and current landowners to develop and implement strategies and procedures for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. This is to include the provision of appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children.
76. We call upon the parties engaged in the work of documenting, maintaining, commemorating, and protecting residential school cemeteries to adopt strategies in accordance with the following principles:
i. The Aboriginal community most affected shall lead the development of such strategies.
ii. Information shall be sought from residential school Survivors and other Knowledge Keepers in the development of such strategies.
iii. Aboriginal protocols shall be respected before any potentially invasive technical inspection and investigation of a cemetery site.
Church Apologies and Reconciliation
58. We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.
59. We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.
60. We call upon leaders of the church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, schools of theology, seminaries, and other religious training centres, to develop and teach curriculum for all student clergy, and all clergy and staff who work in Aboriginal communities, on the need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right, the history and legacy of residential schools and the roles of the church parties in that system, the history and legacy of religious conflict in Aboriginal families and communities, and the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence.
61. We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement, in collaboration with Survivors and representatives of Aboriginal organizations, to establish permanent funding to Aboriginal people for:
i. Community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects.
ii. Community-controlled culture- and language revitalization projects.
iii. Community-controlled education and relationship building projects.
iv. Regional dialogues for Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth to discuss Indigenous spirituality, self determination, and reconciliation.