MP Mel Arnold: We Must Continue Towards Reconciliation, Together

Opinion Editorial Submission – Credit: Vernon Morning Star June 2021

The May 28 confirmation that remains of at least 215 Indigenous children are buried at the former Kamloops Residential School once again exposed the painful injustices and suffering that Canada’s Residential School System inflicted on Indigenous children, their families, and communities for over a century. The heartbreaking news also demonstrates the unfinished work that must be completed to continue progressing Canadians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, forward on the path to reconciliation.

The news from Kamloops was shocking as it exposed the inhuman treatment that so many Indigenous children were subjected to under a system that was meant to strip them of their culture and identity. How our federal government and those trusted with operating the schools could have inflicted such cold and callous abuse on innocent and vulnerable children is beyond comprehension.

Despite official apologies from Prime Ministers Harper (2008) and Trudeau (2017) acknowledging the federal government’s role in the horrors inflicted by residential schools, there are still too many Canadians who have yet to fully grasp the realities inflicted. The recent findings in Kamloops appeared to be especially shocking for those who were not aware that these children, and many more, have been missing for a very long time.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) initiated in 2008 to investigate and document the legacies of the residential schools was a long overdue opportunity for Indigenous peoples to speak their truths and an opportunity for non-Indigenous people, myself included, to develop  deeper understandings the true legacies of the schools. Building shared understandings of this very dark chapter of our shared histories is essential to the solidarity and respect required for Canada to eventually step out of this shadow of our past.

In 2015, the TRC issued 94 Calls to Action that included six calls speaking directly to “Missing Children and Burial Information.” I have asked the Prime Minister to ensure the federal government provides all resources required to identify, protect and honour the children buried at the Kamloops Indian Residential School and that this work be Indigenous-led in keeping with call to action 76.

On June 7, I supported a motion in the House of Commons calling on the government take timely actions including accelerating the implementation of the TRC’s calls to action by providing immediate funding for further investigation into the deaths and disappearances of children at residential schools. Although Trudeau and his Ministers failed to support this motion, I hope they will act soon.

The continued suffering of Indigenous communities resulting from residential schools is very real and this is a reality that we must all recognize so we may contribute to reconciliation. Beyond recognizing this reality, I hope that all non-Indigenous Canadians may also find ways to support Indigenous peoples and communities still recovering from injustices inflicted on them and their loved ones.

I will continue to engage with Indigenous communities to grow my understanding of their experiences, needs and priorities. Working together, we can and will achieve progress towards greater reconciliation.