The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board is urging the federal government to speed up efforts to account for every lost child in the residential school system.
The June 9 meeting opened with an emotional conversation as directors discussed the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children on the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site.
Directors held a moment of silence for the children, as well as for Sarah Robinson – an Indigenous advocate from the West Coast who died of cancer last month.
“Residential schools are concrete examples of racism and colonialism,” said board chair John Jack, who is also a councillor with Huu-ay-aht First Nations.
“Anyone looking into it seriously will see it for the pure evil that it was. No ends justify those means.”
He talked about the way residential schools did damage not only to individuals, but also to their children and their grandchildren because of generational trauma.
“We have to acknowledge the pain. We have to acknowledge the wrongs and own them, as a Canadian, and understand what happened. We can’t excuse the outcome for the intent. And most of all, we can’t let others do that in our presence – no matter how uncomfortable it may be.”
“It is not enough to not see skin colour. Because that abdicates the responsibility to see our Indigenousness and see the damage that has been done.”
There are four First Nations represented on the ACRD board: Huu-ay-aht, Ucluelet, Uchucklesaht and Toquaht.
Other directors offered their words of regret and shared their own personal experiences. Ucluelet First Nation director Alan McCarthy spoke as a survivor of the residential school system.
“I survived it in some ways, but I do carry a lot of that pain with me today,” he said. “From an early age, at six years old, I knew how to hold these things down.”
McCarthy says as a result of his experience at the residential school, he still keeps his cupboards stocked full of food.
“I still carry that feeling of hunger,” he said. “I don’t ever want my kids feeling that they’re hungry and they have nothing to eat. Any time of the day, you can go to that cupboard and eat.”
Uchucklesaht Tribe director Wilfred Cootes read a moving poem written by his aunt.
“We need to realize that this horrific discovery is not a singular event. It has been spoken of and dismissed in the past. We can start to heal when we acknowledge what happened in the past.”
Cherry Creek director Dianne Bodnar spoke about her experience as a nurse at Alberni Indian Residential School. At the time, she said, she complained about the way children were fed and taken care of at the school.
“I only saw the tip of the iceberg.”
Beaver Creek director John McNabb described his own experience in foster care as a child.
“While many, many things were taken from me, the things that weren’t taken from me were my language and my history and my customs. I don’t know what my life would have been if those things were taken from me.”
“Their voices are being heard today,” said City of Port Alberni director Ron Paulson of the 215 children that were discovered. “It’s been like a bolt of lightning to all of us.”
ACRD board of directors voted to write a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, urging the federal government to accelerate its efforts to account for every lost child in the residential school system throughout Canada.
“Even though the avalanche may have already started and it’s kind of silly for the pebbles to hold a vote, I do think what we can do here is send a letter to the prime minister, asking him to accelerate the efforts to find more children.”