Shock, sadness from Manitoba First Nations following tragic Kamloops discovery

First Nations leaders in Manitoba are reacting with shock and sadness following the disturbing discovery of hundreds of bodies at the site of a former residential school in B.C.

The remains of 215 children were discovered with help from ground-penetrating radar at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, according to Chief Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc.

Read more: First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., confirms bodies of 215 children buried at former residential school site

“You think you’re beginning to heal and then something like this happens and it opens wounds for a lot of our people, and it’s a very dark chapter that seems to haunt us even though we want to heal and move forward,” says Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Sette.

“It’s sad for the families because there is never any closure, never any opportunity to mourn and to say goodbye to their loved ones, and that’s a tragedy.

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“We share in their grief and we share and mourn with them.”

Grand Chief Sette, along with Southern Chief’s Organization (SCO) Grand Chief Gerry Daniels, say there needs to be more education for all Canadians about the lasting impacts left behind by the residential school system.

“The last residential school didn’t close until the 90s, and much of the colonial policy and institutional values still exist today,” Grand Chief Daniels says.

“Yes, this is the history, but let’s not forget that today First Nations still have the worst social-economic condition as opposed to any other Canadian in the country.

“That’s not because First Nations want that to happen, it’s a result of policy after policy, and leadership after leadership, not truly acknowledging what it takes to change that narrative.”

Read more: ‘Tip of the iceberg.’ Experts say more burial sites, like at B.C. residential school, could be found

To change the social fabric for First Nations, which is right now “plagued by poverty,” Grand Chief Daniels says more must be done to boost economic and other opportunities for First Nations people, beyond federal or social transfers.

“That is the direction we must go, and our partners both at the municipal, provincial and federal level of government have to get on side, including the business sector, and really give First Nations support in establishing ourselves and allowing First Nations to engage in the economy,” Grand Chief Daniels says.

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In the meantime, Grand Chief Sette says Canadians “must never forget” the historic injustices perpetrated against First Nations people.

“We must continue to honour the spirits of these children,” Grand Chief Sette says.

“You can’t ignore such a tragedy on such a massive scale.”

With files from James Peters

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Reaction to Kamloops discovery

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