The first annual first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was observed on Thursday (Sept. 30) at the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Powwow Arbour with speeches and drumming amidst cloudy skies and a bit of rain.
On June 3, just days following the announcement by Tk’emlúps that the use of ground-penetrating radar had discovered about 200 probable graves, all unmarked, on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, the federal government passed legislation marking Sept. 30 as a statutory holiday — National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — alongside Orange Shirt Day.
The discovery at Tk’emlups led to international attention and outcry over Canada’s past residential school system.
On Thursday, Tk’emlups Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said awareness about the treatment of Indigenous peoples at residential schools that has come about since the band’s announcement on May 26 is “something that’s very much needed.”
In the weeks after the Tk’emlups announcement, other bands announced they had found signs of probable graves on former residential school sites through GPR surveys in other parts of B.C. and in Saskatchewan.
“Many non-First Nation friends and family are just now learning about that true history, even though we went through the residential school settlement back in 1991 through 2006. It’s like people are hearing it for the first time and having a better understanding of it,” Casimir said.
She noted the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action have been “on the table” for about six years and now is a “pivotal point” to take a step moving forward — a step the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation represents.
“As an intergenerational survivor of Indian residential schools and as a chief who serves a First Nation where the past is truly remembered by the very big footprint of an Indian residential school in our community, Orange Shirt Day is very important to Tk̓ emlúps te Secwépemc,” Casimir told reporters during a press conference preceding Thursday’s ceremonies.
“This year it is especially poignant as we brought forward the confirmation of the unmarked graves of missing children from the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”
Tk’emlúps has called on people worldwide to drum simultaneously at 2:15 p.m. (Pacific Daylight Time) on Thursday for the missing children of Indian residential schools. Participants will be performing the Secwépemc Honour Song, which is available through the Tk’emlúps social media channels and online at tkemlups.ca/drum.
Meanwhile, Casimir addressed a statement of apology issued last week by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), which stated, in part:
“We, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, gathered in Plenary this week, take this opportunity to affirm to you, the Indigenous Peoples of this land, that we acknowledge 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. We acknowledge the grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community; physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and sexual. We also sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples that continue to this day. Along with those Catholic entities which were directly involved in the operation of the schools and which have already offered their own heartfelt apologies, we, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, express our profound remorse and apologize unequivocally.”
In response, Casimir said she had a “disturbing sense of déjà vu.”
“The acknowledgements contained in the apology regarding the suffering and grave abuses caused by ‘some’ members of the Roman Catholic community and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous peoples to the present day are essentially a repeat of the apologies made to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada,” Casimir said. “The apology contains no acts of contrition or living up to the promises made by the CCCB with regards to the disclosure of documents and information to the TRC and of the raising of funds for Indian residential school survivors. Reconciliation requires truth and truth is but one milestone, along with restitution and, potentially, retribution in the path toward reconciliation. At the very least, steps toward reconciliation demands honesty and transparency.”
As part of the CCCB’s statement of apology, the group noted a delegation of Indigenous survivors, elders/knowledge keepers and youth will meet with Pope Francis Rome in December.
Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kamloops This Week