The discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School is another reminder to Canadians of our racist history. A history that, until recently, has remained in the dark for many of us. But this is not only our history, it is our present. The impacts of the genocidal approach of the Residential School System are alive and well today, and we need to acknowledge this in our work towards reconciliation.

Our hearts are with all survivors of the residential school system, and particularly with the members of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, on whose unceded territory the school operated until 1978. As well, to the Indigenous staff, students and community of our schools who are deep in grief, we offer our profound condolences. We can only imagine the pain this is causing for you and your loved ones. We commit to holding space for you and your grief.

The VSTA Indigenous Education Chair, Spirit Lavallee, kindly reminded us all that the onus is on us to educate ourselves, and not to ask Indigenous colleagues to hold space, to educate us, or to tell us what to do. As educators we have a responsibility to continue with the ongoing work of reconciliation, both in the classroom and within our homes

A list of resources has been sent out from the VSB to each school site. Here are a few more suggestions:

If you are looking for a place to make donations in support of Residential School Survivors:
Donate — Indian Residential School Survivors Society (irsss.ca)

For viewing and listening:

NFB
CBC Radio: Unreserved
Indiginews podcasts
APTN podcasts
Bob Joseph speaking about his book, 21 Things You Didn’t Know About the Indian Act

We encourage you to reach out to your Teacher Librarian to learn about the VSB School Libraries’ growing selection in indigenous writers.

Call to Action

In response to the devastating news of the recent and tragic finding of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, to honour the lives lost and to act in solidary with Indigenous colleagues, their families and the wider Indigenous community, the BCTF passed the following motion this past weekend at the BCTF Representative Assembly:

That locals organize a walk-in for the week of Monday, May 31 to June 4, 2021, to honour the 215 children at Kamloops Indian Residential School.
That members that are able to wear
orange as well and request schools to lower flags to half-mast for the week till June 4, 2021.

We ask that teachers make every effort to enter the building together tomorrow June 1st. Teachers are also encouraged to wear orange tomorrow and for the remainder of the week, and although the motion indicates ‘a’ walk-in be organized this week, teachers may want to repeat the walk-in action daily for this week. Teachers may also wish to create their own site-specific activities to demonstrate support. As you may be aware there has been a federal announcement that flags will be lowered to half-mast until further notice.

The VSTA extends a special message of support to Indigenous colleagues, we stand in solidarity with you. 

Please take the time to read the message from Spirit Lavallee – VSTA Indigenous Education Chair, included below.

In solidarity,
Treena, Terry and Alyssa

A message from Spirit Lavallee, VSTA Indigenous Education Chair

Dear Colleagues,

Tansi, Hadih today it saddens me to address you all in light of the 215 Indigenous children found in a mass grave at Kamloops Residential School last week.

On behalf of the VSTA and my role as Indigenous Education Chair, I send us all love and healing as we are faced with this reminder of the atrocities committed on our Indigenous families and communities.

I want to express support and compassion to the Tk’emlups te Secwépmc Nation and all the families who did not have their children return from the Kamloops Residential School.

This is not history; this is our Living Trauma.

These are stories our people carry. Many of us know these stories, many of these stories have been shared publicly over the last decade and more. Not always were they met with understanding, nor given the respect and belief they deserved. Having confirmation with a mass grave found of 215 undocumented children deaths is hard hitting and triggering for us all.

I implore you to hold space for your Indigenous colleagues’ and students’ who are struggling with this. There are many high emotions flying around that we are all experiencing. I hope for us to find a balance and peace to process these genocidal acts we’ve endured. The space to feel, with the safety and support to feel them without challenge and dismissal.

Since hearing the news Thursday evening, I’ve struggled with this message all weekend. I’ve fielded many conversations, and messages from many in my circle, my family and community. I am fortunate to have a strong network of support and women to help hold me up. I borrow their strength and some of their words, I lean on them heavily. We are all not so fortunate.

For our younger generations who did not have to experience being stolen or attend Residential school directly, we are not left unaffected. I’ve spoken with my nieces, my son, and former students in the last couple days and know they are carrying the hurt of their families.  I’ve heard from my peer group, who many are the first generation who did not have to attend a residential school, and they sit with heavy hearts and no words.  I’ve listened to aunties’ and uncles’ stories of their time at residential school and know there are so many more left unspoken.  I cannot comprehend.

I implore you to educate yourselves, to not message your Indigenous friends and colleagues unsolicited of your outrage and apologies at this time. Please do not ask us to hold space for you, to educate you, or what you can do. I offer you some suggestions, shared from my extended family at the end of this message, but the onus is yours. Please be gentle with yourselves and find a way to cope and process, we need our allies strong; but we cannot do it for you.

We are still processing and some of us are active on social media, look there for what we are able to and are willing to share. Support your colleagues’ initiatives to organize and honour the 215 children who did not return home. Many of us are already faced with and filtering racist responses from society, use your voice and actions to support us. Show your solidarity by giving us space to voice and organize. Join us there.

I leave you with the powerful message my auntie Deanna Pointe made in her statement at the Art Gallery memorial yesterday

“This affects all of us. I am not just a survivor; I want to live. I have to live with knowing that this is just the beginning.This is Canada, this is going to go across Canada, they just started. 

Our people have been hurt for generations and We’ve had Enough… we’ve had enough. We want respect, we want honour, we want to be alive; that’s all we want. To live in Our lands, to be free to wear our brown skin, to be free to wear our  braids, to be free to say our words. Does this affect you?This affects all of us and this is just the beginning.”

I personally want to thank Jelana Bighorn, Cheryl Robinson, Deanna Pointe, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Tara Marsden, Jessica Wood and my countless nieces, all who have helped to hold me up these past couple days with their love and support and words of strength and insight.

The following list of suggestions comes from my cousin Tara Marsden:

  1. Make a public statement from your organization. Your silence speaks volumes. Speak up and say something.
  2. Use your personal voice, through social media to support Indigenous peoples and denounce the genocide which made Canada what it is today.
  3. Support counselling, ceremonies and other healing efforts for Indigenous peoples; whether financially or by other means of creating space and legitimizing the importance of this effort.
  4. Call for action. Call on your elected leaders to take action, to conduct similar assessments in other residential schools across Canada.
  5. Support your Indigenous colleagues, don’t expect them to return to business as usual. Do your homework and learn for yourself, before asking them to educate you.
  6. Hold a minute of silence at any meetings held this week. Pause for prayer, quiet reflection, respect for those who lost their lives.

For my Indigenous colleagues, I am here with you. Please reach out if you need help, advocacy  or are interested in a healing circle for us to be organized. 

Mwestas, hiy hiy
Lateral kindness, not lateral violence

Spirit Lavallee
Cree/Metis & Wet’suwet’en