“What we’re doing is not enough,” MLA Adam Olsen told fellow members of the B.C. Legislature during an emotional speech Monday – less than a week after the discovery of a mass grave on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of 215 Indigenous children on the grounds of the former residential school Thursday (May 27), which housed as many as 500 children at a time.
Olsen, who is the representative for Saanich North and the Islands and a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, told the legislature of the trauma faced by his family and many others forced into residential schools from the 1880s to the 1990s.
“Like many of my peers, my grandparents, my great aunties and uncles are survivors of Kuper Island Residential School,” he said. “I know that they’d want me here today. Honouring the horrors that they lived through by demanding accountability for them.”
The Kuper Island Residential School, which was location on Kuper Island near Chemainus, opened in 1889 and was run by the Catholic Church until 1969, when it was taken over by the federal government. It was fully closed in 1975.
“For 30 years, my relatives have been sharing their experiences from these despicable institutions. For 30 years, those stories have been hushed,” Olsen said.
“This story is not shocking, nor is it unimaginable… the only reason to call it unimaginable would be because these institutions, these crown governments, federal and provincial governments, people that populate these chambers in the past either haven’t been listening to our stories, or they’ve cared less. Because it is a reality in our country, that some children have mattered less.”
Olsen added that while residential schools, the last of which closed its doors in 1996, may be in the past, Indigenous Peoples are still subject treatment not seen in other groups.
“I wish I could say that indigenous children are no longer forcibly removed from their communities. However, I can’t,” he said. “I wish I could say that Indigenous People were not dramatically over-represented in fatalities at the hands of police, the criminal justice system, homelessness, suicide, addictions and drug poisonings – all statistics you don’t want to ever be over-represented in.”
Olsen called on the B.C. government to take responsibility for actions by provincial governments in the past and to make counselling and mental health care available immediately to survivors and their families, as well as programs to restore Indigenous languages, culture and governance.
“This is indeed a heavy burden. But it’s one we can make all lighter if we carry it together.”
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is offering toll-free 24-hour telephone support for survivors and their families at 1 (866) 925-4419. Alternately, you can reach out the KUU-US Crisis Line Society 24-hour line at 1-800-588-8717.