Sorrow and pain from an unthinkable loss are being felt deeply throughout the region after the remains of 215 children were confirmed by ground penetrating radar at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Kukpi7 (Chief) Cliff Arnouse of the Adams Lake band spoke of how he and his family have been affected, noting the 17 chiefs of the Secwépemc Nation gathered on Friday, May 28 and expect to be issuing a broader statement May 31.
He said it’s been a long time since he’s felt such sadness. “It’s heartbreaking news.”
And he expects similar information will be coming from residential schools across Canada.
“I thought residential school would be closing the book and moving on, but it looks like there’ll be another 18 chapters.”
Arnouse said he went to the Kamloops residential school, as did his mom and several family members.
He said when his mother was there she would try to look after the children and feed the children; “the little ones were starving.”
She would inquire about children if they were missing and she would be told they went home or they ran away, he said.
“We did talk a lot about the rumours and children gone missing. My mother’s name was Regina and she used to talk about it before she passed on.”
Kukpi7 Arnouse said a lot of people from Adams Lake went to the Kamloops school and a lot, second or third generation, have died.
“It’s had a big impact. They lived a hard life and it showed in their lifestyle and how they tried to survive this on their own.”
He said he is lucky to still have his language.
“They could not beat it all out of me.”
A lot of old wounds will be opened up by the finding of the children’s remains on the grounds of the school, he said.
He does his spiritual work, goes to sweats and utilizes a lot of ceremonies to help with the emotional aftermath.
As chief, he said he’s asking for more support to be brought in such as mental health workers and clinicians so there is help for community members.
“We need to be able to be there for them to help them through it.”
Kukpi7 (Chief) Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith band issued a statement via the Union of BC Indian Chiefs where she is secretary-treasurer.
“As Secwépemc we are grieving our relatives, and all of the stsmemelt, whose lives were lost to the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Though we knew that many children never returned home, and their families were left without answers, this confirmation brings a particular heaviness to our hearts and our spirits all throughout Secwépemculecw. I hold my hands up to Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir, and to the people of Tk’emlúps, for undertaking this difficult but critical work to identify and honour each of the spirits who were lost to this institution of state sanctioned genocide, and the ongoing work to bring closure and healing to their families and communities. We stand beside you in prayer, and in honouring each and every one of them.”
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, the Kamloops band, issued a news release on May 27 regarding the confirmation.
“It is with a heavy heart that Tk’emlúps te SecwépemcKukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir confirms an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented by the Kamloops Indian Residential School. This past weekend, with the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist, the stark truth of the preliminary findings came to light – the confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School…”
The B.C. Society of Indian Residential School Survivors is offering toll-free telephone support for survivors at 1-800-721-0066.