A continued call for records was made at a press conference preceding a ceremony recognizing the first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday (Sept.30) at the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Powwow Arbour.
Tk’emlúps has been calling on the federal government and the Catholic Church to release attendance records of all students who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School after the band discovered signs of 200 probable graves on the grounds of the former institution in May of this year.
Tk’emlúps Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir, band legal counsel Don Worme and Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald called for action rather than promises to assist the band’s investigation of missing Indigenous children connected to the school.
“The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and First Nations with Catholic residential schools have faced persistent problems in gaining the co-operation and support we require to document and identify the missing and deceased children,” Casimir said.
She said the band’s researchers and community members don’t have unfettered access to information surrounding the Kamloops residential school and want the federal government to share with them “full documentation.”
Worme said there has been commitments from organizations that operated the school — Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Sisters of St. Anns — that they will go out of their way to provide records, which have not yet materialized.
“We’ve heard their apologies before, we have seen them come forward and offer to provide their records. We do not accept those words anymore. Good words are not enough, we want action,” Worme said.
Worme, who worked on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), noted his skepticism in the process because the federal government did not fulfill its obligation to provide all relevant documents to that body.
“We cannot permit that to happen again,” he said.
Worme said the band needs disclosure from the Canadian government and the Catholic Church of all relevant documents, including finding aids — codes that describe contents of vast holdings in government databases — rather than a “document dump.”
“The finding aids are a tool that are designed to assist archivists and researchers to locate records and understand them in the proper context. Without those, you cannot get to the essential research for the relevant documents,” Worme said.
He said the TRC wasn’t provided those codes and the end result was that many records were not accessed.
Despite multiple invitations from Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc to mark the first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instead spent the day on vacation in Tofino.
Casimir told reporters the band extended two written invitations to Trudeau to attend the Sept. 30 ceremony and to visit the community.
“I understand the federal election had occurred. I did hold out hope that he’d be here today,” Casimir said, adding she hopes the the prime minister will work with the band collaboratively on a positive path forward.
According to a report from Global News, Trudeau, despite his official calendar marking him in Ottawa in private meetings on Sept. 30, was in fact in Tofino spending the day with his family, but also set to speak with residential school survivors from across the country.
On June 3, the federal government made Sept. 30 a federal statutory holiday — National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — just days after Tk’emlúps announced the discovery of probable graves on grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Since that announcement in May, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been the lone federal political party leader to visit Tk’emlúps.
Last week the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued a statement of apology and pledged $30 million over five years to support healing and reconciliation initiatives for residential school survivors, their families and their communities.
At Thursday’s press conference, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief RoseAnne Archibald called the funds, as well as dollars committed by the federal government, a “long overdue step” and asked that government funding is “Indigenous-led, survivor-centric and culturally safe.”
She said the AFN is also looking to make sure every dollar of the funds committed goes toward healing initiatives for survivors and intergenerational survivors.
“As national chief, I will be reaching out to the bishops of Canada to make sure that First Nations are part of the development of what they are calling national principal and strategies, timelines and public communication as stated in their announcement,” Archibald said.
Casimir described the CCCB apology’s commitment “to continue the work of providing documentation or records that will assist in the memorialization of those buried in unmarked graves” cynical, because it's had ample opportunity to exert whatever authority it might have to provide those records and documents from the Catholic entities over which it presides.
“If this apology is truly a commitment, then Tk̓ emlúps te Secwépemc insists on the complete and full production of all relevant records and documents in a manner and form useful and accessible to Indian residential school survivors to help identify those missing children, those unmarked graves and repatriating those lost,” Casimir said.
She also asked the CCCB to work with her band to assist in implementing TRC recommendations 71 through 76, which deal with missing children and burial information.
Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kamloops This Week