Kamloops Indian Residential School Discovery of Remains

Saturday, June 26, 2021 - By: Ms Robyn Amiel, Allard Houseparent, Social Studies Department Head

Kamloops is located at the bisection of the Thompson River. When driving from Vancouver, the Trans-Canada Highway descends into this dry, windy city. As drivers enter the city, they have a choice of crossing the river to follow the North Thompson River along Highway 5 (also known as the Yellowhead Highway) towards places like Clearwater and Jasper, or turning right to follow the South Thompson River along Highways 97 and 1 to reach places like Shuswap Lake, Revelstoke, and eventually, Banff.

It is at this fork in the road where one sees the looming, brick building that I drove by so often. It is large, old, and topped with a bell tower steeple. When I worked at Sun Peaks Ski Resort back in 2006, I would drive past this building regularly en route to buying groceries and running other errands.

I knew it was a bad place. I knew it was a place where children were forced to go, but it was not until I started learning more about Truth and Reconciliation as a teacher that I came to understand and feel the atrocities that happened at this place.

Now home to the Chief Louis Centre and the Secwépemc Museum, this building operated from 1893 until 1977 - the year my mother graduated from high school. I mention this because Truth and Reconciliation takes time, patience, and multiple generations of settlers who are willing to understand and speak out about the genocide of Indigenous children that occured throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in Canada.

My parents were just a little younger than children like Chanie Wenjack, who at the age of 12, died of exposure while attempting to escape the Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School in Ontario in 1966. And as the next generation, my brother and I were attending a private Catholic school as the last residential schools were being closed, and The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples deemed the Indian Act as oppressive.

As I look back on my education, I am conflicted; I immensely enjoyed my high school experience, but I also know I attended a school with ties to the Catholic Church in Canada, which to this day, has yet to fully apologize for its role played in residential schools. This conflicted feeling is also shared by my best friend since Grade 9 who said in a text to me last Saturday night, “I know I didn’t come away understanding what happened. I am feeling so heartbroken and angry. I wish I could remember what we talked about.”

Canadian Indian residential schools had been in operation since 1831, but it was not until the Bagot Commission Report from 1844, presented to the Legislative Assembly, proposed that separating Indigenous children from their parents was the best way to assimilate them into Euro-Canadian culture (orangeshirtday.org). And despite Dr Peter Henderson Bryce in 1907 later publishing a report calling attention to the neglect and adverse health effects on children, the Government of Canada made attendance compulsory for First Nations children in the 1920s at the direction of Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent in the Department of Indian Affairs.

According to Dr. Bryce, children who attended these schools had a mortality rate of 25%. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 150,000 children attended residential schools and it is estimated that approximately 4,000 died while in the care of these schools.

As Brentwood gathered on Campbell Commons Monday, May 31 to pay our respects and participate in a moment of silence to honour the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children, some as young as three, at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School (CBC.ca), I encourage all settlers and non-Indigenous members of our community to reflect on the pain and suffering felt by not only these children, but also their parents, grandparents, siblings, and aunts and uncles, and to find ways, such as reading the 94 Calls to Action, to help promote Truth and Reconciliation.

Ms Robyn Amiel, Allard Houseparent, Social Studies Department Head

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