KAMLOOPS, BC — Indigenous people have had enough apologies and want action from the Catholic Church and federal government, says the chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia.
As the country marked its first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Chief Rosanne Casimir called for the disclosure of all relevant records from the church and government to help identify missing Indigenous children at former residential school sites, including those in unmarked graves.
“Reconciliation requires truth,” Casimir said. “And this is but one milestone along with the restitution and potentially retribution, and a path toward reconciliation. At the very least, steps toward reconciliation demands honesty and transparency.”
Tk’emlups te Secwepemc announced in May it used
ground-penetrating radar to locate the remains of more than 200
children long believed missing from the residential school that
operated there between 1890 and 1969. Since then, other Indigenous
nations have announced finding unmarked graves using similar search
Records show that about 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were forced to attend 140 schools that operated across the country beginning in 1831. The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996.
Casimir said less than a hectare of land was searched around the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School and another 65 hectares still need to be explored.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a national apology on Sept. 24, acknowledging “the suffering experienced in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.”
“Many Catholic religious communities and dioceses participated in this system, which led to the suppression of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, failing to respect the rich history, traditions and wisdom of Indigenous Peoples,” it said in a statement.
Casimir said the apology brought a “disturbing sense of deja vu,” with no acts of contrition or promises to disclose documents.
On Monday, the conference pledged a $30-million national fund to support healing and reconciliation initiatives for residential school survivors, their families and their communities.
Casimir said the nation is asking for the implementation of the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report about missing children and unmarked burials, including maintaining a registry of residential school cemeteries and allowing for the review of relevant documents.
“If this apology is truly a commitment, then the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc insists on the complete and full production of all relevant documents and records in a manner and form that is useful and accessible to Indian residential school survivors to help identify those missing, and those unmarked graves and repatriating those lost,” she said.
The Canadian Conference of the Catholic Bishops did not reply to a request for comment.
Megan MacLean, spokeswoman for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, said in a statement that advancing meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples is paramount in moving forward.
The parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, including churches, were responsible for handing over the records for the schools they administered, she said
Over four million documents have been disclosed by various departments and are housed at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, her statement said.
The government is committed to working with all partners to implement the commission’s Calls to Action, MacLean said.
“The prime minister formally requested an apology when he met Pope Francis at the Vatican and the government of Canada continues to call upon the Pope to apologize,” she said.
Murray Rankin, B.C.’s minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said the province is providing access to records to First Nation groups investigating residential schools.
“So, there’s going to be in our case, at least in the province of British Columbia, as much transparency as possible,” he said.
B.C. has worked with Indigenous leaders to develop a draft action plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the province, one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he added.
There’s much more work to be done, and the province acknowledges that, said Rankin, who was in Kamloops attending a gathering to mark the day of reconciliation.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said this day should honour the survivors and victims of residential schools.
“I’ve always said that truth must come before reconciliation,” said Archibald, who also attended the ceremony in Kamloops.
“True reconciliation is about learning, sharing and growing as a country. The more we know about where we’ve come from, and our shared history and our responsibilities, the better we can address current challenges and find our healing path forward together.”
Echoing Casimir’s call, she said First Nations need to see proof that there will be action going forward.
“Empty promises and hollow apologies will no longer be accepted.”
Casimir said they want a “meaningful apology” from the Pope for the trauma experienced by Indigenous children and intergenerational suffering that resulted.
In June, Pope Francis expressed his pain over the finding of the remains of children in Kamloops and pressed religious and political authorities to shed light on “this sad affair,” but didn’t offer an apology.
The Pope is scheduled to meet in Rome with a delegation of residential school survivors, elders and Indigenous youth in December.
Casimir said an apology from the Pope would be more meaningful if he came to Canada to express the sentiment.