The discovery of a mass grave with the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School has re-opened a national sorrow, and prompted new demands for accountability and reconciliation. Guelph is no exception as key Royal City institutions have lowered their flags to half-staff in recognition of the loss while community activists organize a vigil at Guelph’s most recognizable landmark.
“Guelph joins communities across Canada in mourning the 215 children whose remains have been found at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. All flags at City of Guelph facilities will be lowered until further notice to honour them,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie in a statement on Sunday night.
“This is a tragic example of the abuse and neglect that occurred in Canada’s residential school system, and of the terrible violence and harm inflicted on Indigenous people,” Guthrie said. “We are reeling with horror, shock, and sadness at the way these innocent children were taken from their families and communities, and had their lives cut tragically short.”
“As a community, we must commit to positive change, and to eradicating racism and violence against Indigenous people,” the mayor added.
The University of Guelph also lowered their flags on Monday adding that the flags will be down for 215 hours to honour the 215 children discovered in the mass grave and for the “countless others who never returned home from residential schools across Canada.” The campus community was also encouraged to wear orange on Monday to acknowledge the need for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
“Our thoughts are with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and Indigenous communities who are mourning this devastating loss and grappling with the intergenerational effects of residential schools,” the U of G said in a statement.
The Upper Grand District School Board also lowered the flags at their schools, as well as their north end headquarters. The flags will remain lowered until June 7.
“As we collectively mourn this horrific loss, we acknowledge that there cannot be reconciliation without truth,” the UGDSB said in a statement. “The lowering of flags is not enough; substantial work must be done in our communities, schools and systems to face the historical and current atrocities faced by Indigenous communities, and to ensure that Indigenous staff and students are not deprived of their rights, and can learn and work in an environment free of racism and discrimination.
“In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report there are 94 Calls to Action. We need to read these documents and do this work,” it added.
The Diocese of Hamilton, which oversees the Catholic churches in Guelph, has not acknowledged the discovery of the mass grave on their website, or on any of their social media channels, but the Wellington Catholic District School Board has. In a statement on their website, Director of Education Mike Glazier said that his board stands with Indigenous communities “in grief and sorrow.”
“It is a horrific reminder of the injustices perpetrated against our Indigenous community in our Nation’s recent history. We grieve for the students who perished and any members of our First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples who have suffered,” Glazier said.
“As a school board we are committed to taking action to live out our responsibilities in support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action,” he added. “We will continue to support greater awareness to all students and staff of our collective responsibilities under the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action throughout the month of June. Our Program department has provided speakers and resources to assist further learning that can be accessed in the weeks ahead.”
A community group is organizing a vigil at the front of the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate downtown on Tuesday at 6:30 pm. There will be speakers, drummers, and prayers offered before a procession heads down Macdonell Street to the river. People are being asked to bring candles, kids shoes, and respectful signs, and to follow COVID-19 protocols at all times.
In terms of the politics, Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner asked all parties at Queen’s Park to commit to a non-partisan plan to work towards Reconciliation. On Monday, NDP MPPs Suze Morrison and Sol Mamakwa called on the Provincial government to bring in new technology to investigate residential school properties in Ontario to see if there are other unmarked graves. Government House leader Paul Calandra said that the government will work with the opposition on a bill.
“MPP Calandra’s agreement to work with the opposition on a bill to search the grounds of former Ontario residential schools for mass graves is an important first step,” said Schreiner. “There is so much work that needs to be done, and the responsibility is on all of us. The duty of Reconciliation is on all of us.”
“We also need to urgently update Ontario’s education curriculum to include the history of residential schools and the legacy of colonialism,” Schreiner added. “We need a full non-partisan commitment to tackling the systemic racism and colonialism that perpetuates in our society as we work towards Reconciliation. And I look forward to working with all parties at Queen’s Park to make this happen.”