Vancouver: Memorial for the Kamloops Residential School
In late-May 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of 215 children buried in a mass grave at a former residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia; ground-penetrating radar was used to locate the remains.
During a period of 160 years, the Government of Canada in concert with churches constructed residential schools in a state-sponsored process of “aggressive assimilation” to make children of Indigenous people “less aboriginal and more white” with instruction in English and Christianity in order to erase the children’s traditions and cultural ties.
More than 150-thousand children were sent to some 130 residential schools across Canada between 1830s and the 1990s. Forcibly removed from their homes and parents, children of Indigenous peoples were forced into the schools where they faced neglect and physical and sexual abuse. Physical records indicate a total of over 4000 children deaths; the actual number is very likely much higher. Many children were not buried properly, parents were not notified about what happened to their children: many children who were forced into residential schools never returned home. For years, survivors have told their stories about what happened inside those schools: there is every expectation more mass graves and more children will be found.
The systematic removal of indigenous children from their families disrupted, divided, and destroyed living generations of indigenous families, robbing people of their respective culture and language and the wealth of lived experiences shared between generations. According to the terms and definitions laid out in the 1948 United Nations’ Convention, Canada committed genocide against their Indigenous Peoples. The destructive effects of white colonialism upon Indigenous Peoples in the country is not only historical but continues today with inequity, intransigence, obstruction and obfuscation, and injustice.
A makeshift memorial was quickly created at the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery at Robson Square. It’s worth noting the Art Gallery is presently housed in the former provincial court house which opened in 1911 and would have served as a “legal” instrument of white- and settler-colonialism. That this National Historic Site is the location of an improvised tribute to the loss of life and dignity caused by state-sponsored acts of genocide is an enormous juxtaposition.
June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada.
As a resident of Vancouver, I’m a guest on unceded traditional territory and land of the Coast Salish First Nations: Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam). I made all images above on 1 June 2021 with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-l2C.
2 Responses to “Vancouver: Memorial for the Kamloops Residential School”
Until learning about the school in Kamloops, I thought the United States was the only country trying to “deprogram” native American children with boarding schools. There were many such schools in the western parts of the United States, some still around in the mid-20th century.
Hi, John. Colonialism is at the very least consistent; there are plenty of examples around the world. But speaking within Canada, many believe the discovery is only the start of a reckoning, because this will mean more effort and funding to look for mass graves. Many will look carefully to see if real action will actually happen, especially because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued their report in late-2015 with 94 calls to action. Thanks again for your comment and for stopping by!