“If there are stories to be told, let people talk.”
That was part of Splatsin Chief Wayne Christian’s message after the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found at the former site of a Kamloops residential school.
The discovery is a stark reminder that the residential school system in Canada was in place as recently as 1996, and that while many of its survivors are living in First Nations across the country, many others did not survive.
On Thursday the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said new technology allowed for the discovery of the burial site, and forensic experts are continuing work to identify the individual children.
That work could eventually lead to the repatriation of those children to their communities and families, but right now, Kukpi7 Christian says it’s time to offer support to those in the community still reeling from the “unimaginable and horrific” news.
“For those of you who went to the residential school and are survivors, I want to really ask you to think about the support you may need,” he said in a video shared with the public Friday.
“Because it really is about you — you survived that horror, and it’s important that you get what you need. And I know that many people (have) parents, grandparents, aunties or uncles or siblings that attended this school, or what they called a school.”
Some may want words of encouragement; others may want to tell their own story.
“Let them let it out, because a lot of people still won’t talk about the horrors that took place here. A lot of people were not believed that there were actually burials at this place,” Christian said. “This confirms what our people have always said.”
The Splatsin chief said news of the discovery “knocked me off my stride for a while,” and he’s still reeling. He said it’s hard to explain the anger chiefs are feeling right now.
“(We) want to hold the governments accountable, but also the church, for what happened to the little ones.”
Christian has been working with other chiefs to organize a ceremony within the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc first, and then to all First Nations.
The band is also working around the challenge of coming together in mourning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can to get our people together physically, to mourn the death of these 215 babies,” Christian said.
“We’re in the midst of COVID and it makes it even more difficult because we’re trying to find out, how do we do this? And I’m sure that a lot of communities haven’t had our second vaccination yet … so we’re trying to accelerate that process.”