Content warning: The message that follows relates to residential schools in British Columbia and includes references to death.
On September 30, Canada will mark the third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — a significant day to honour the many Indigenous children who never returned home from residential schools, and to grieve alongside the Survivors, their families and communities.
This year, the event comes following very disturbing news last week that an investigation into unmarked graves and missing children by the Stó:lō Nation has revealed that at least 158 children died as a result of their residential school or hospital attendance. Most of these children appear to have died at the Coqualeetza Indian Hospital.
Children in the hospital were part of a systematic government program to remove First Nations, Métis and Inuit children from their families and imprison them in schools. Abuse was rampant, and many children became ill or died due to lack of proper care.
“As a research institute attached to a hospital that’s focused on the well-being of children, the news hits particularly hard,” says Dr. Quynh Doan, senior executive director of BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute (BCCHR). “Our research is guided by the principle of advancing the best possible care for children.
Such a stark reminder of the role medical institutions have played in the colonial project is profoundly disturbing. Going forward, we must continue to work to confront the parts of that institutional legacy that still remain.”
Two years ago, the Stó:lō Nation Chiefs Council (SNCC) launched a broad and inclusive initiative to investigate potential unmarked graves and missing children related to three former residential school sites within S’ólh Téméxw, the shared territory of the Stó:lō. The SNCC initially focused their efforts on St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission, but their work has expanded over time to include Coqualeetza Industrial Institute/Residential School in Chilliwack and All Hallows School in Yale, as well as the Coqualeetza Indian Hospital. All operated in or near the Fraser Valley.
Ninety-six children died at the hospital — some from diseases like tuberculosis, but in other cases, the cause of death is unknown. Survivors describe St. Mary’s Indian Residential School as a place of punishment, starvation and abuse, with reports of killings and secret burials.
We at BCCHR would like the echo sentiments recently shared by the Provincial Health Services Authority:
“We know in our hearts this is not the end; there will be more children found at more residential schools across British Columbia and Canada. As settlers and occupiers, it is our responsibility to bear witness and acknowledge that this is the terrible truth of Indigenous-specific racism in Canada: Residential schools, and the colonial structures from which they arose, existed for the explicit purpose of eradicating the lives of First Nation and Indigenous people, starting with those we hold most dear: our children.
“Ignoring this truth makes us vulnerable to repeating violence and harm. And that cannot be.”
As we approach September 30, we ask everyone to join us in reflecting on events like those that have come to light in recent days and take action to eradicate the Indigenous-specific racism that persists in our society today.
Indigenous-specific supports and services available:
- KUU-US Crisis Line: 1-800-588-8717
- National Indian Residential School Crisis Line (for former residential school students and others who need support): 1-866-925-4419
- Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) Emergency Crisis Line: 604-985-4464 or 1-800-721-0066
- Text/phone resources for youth (24/7) — you can request to speak to an Indigenous crisis responder: 1-800-668-6868, text 686868
- Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society: 1-888-403-3123
Resources for settlers to advance reconciliation commitments:
- Orange Shirt Society Resource List
- Orange Shirt Society YouTube Channel
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
- Activating Allyship in honour of the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation: 90-minute session hosted on Sept. 29, 2023, by Ta7talíya & Ta7talíya-men — tickets here
- Indigenous Canada Coursera course — enrol here
- Indigenous Ally Toolkit
- Native Land Digital
- PHSA Indigenous Health
- In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care