June 1, 2021
Statement on the Kamloops Residential School
The Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary is deeply saddened by the revelation from the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation that 215 innocent young children were denied identity in death. They were buried in unmarked, undocumented graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. However, this should not be a surprise to anyone. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission revealed in 2015 that up to 6,000 children died in Indian Residential Schools and that in many cases, their bodies were scattered in unmarked graves across the country, undocumented and un-recorded.
This serious violation of human rights requires urgent action. Canada has a responsibility to protect and preserve mass graves while ensuring cultural and religious rites are respected.
At present, there are no laws dealing with the type of violation that occurred in Kamloops. Legislation should be passed to prevent such abuse from ever occurring again.
In the meantime, Canada, the provinces and the churches, should work with affected communities, survivors, and families of the deceased to develop a coherent human rights framework to ensure these sites are treated with respect in accordance with human rights and indigenous standards. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action are a good start. They should be implemented as soon as possible by providing adequate resources for the development and maintenance of a student death register, a registry of the location of residential school cemeteries, identification of the bodies, contact with affected families, reburial in home communities if requested, and maintenance and protection of the burial sites. This is the minimum required for fundamental standards of human rights to be met. All Canadians and Indigenous Peoples deserve no less.
The Faculty of Law wishes to extend our sincere condolences to all Indigenous peoples and especially those personally affected and their communities.