In May 2021, twenty eight months ago, our country and the world was shocked by a report from the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc people that a possible 215 unmarked graves were identified in the orchard of the former Indian Residential School. The number “215” became a short hand for Residential Schools and undocumented graves.
Numbers become dangerous when they consciously or unconsciously package or contain the broader issues and concerns present in conversations about Residential Schools in Canada. The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc people realized this and stopped using the number and began talking about Le Estcwicwey, The Missing Ones.
The Missing Ones who never returned home, the Missing Ones who never got to see loved ones again, the Missing Ones who were not cared for by the Residential School System when they were alive and not respected by the Institutions and the church after they died. Some may find this hard to accept, here are some numbers from Volume 4 of the TRC’s Final Report, Missing Children and Unmarked Burials Executive Summary:
Read those statistics out loud. Now think of them as your children and grandchildren.
This may help us appreciate some of the thoughts and feelings present when the Sto:lo Nation’s team Xyolhmet ye Syewiqwelh – “Taking Care of Our Children” presented their findings on September 21, 2023.
Bishop John has spoken about the presentation in his Pastoral Letter distributed to the clergy and lay leaders in every parish of the diocese. It is as follows:
To the Parishes and Worshipping Communities of the Diocese of New Westminster
On Thursday, September 21, Chief David Jimmie, President of the Stó:lō Nation Chiefs’ Council, invited me to attend a meeting where the Xyolhmet ye Syewiqwelh (Taking Care of Our Children) team reported their findings.The event was titled qwōlqwel swáyel (telling news, talking together day). I was able to attend through zoom.
At the gathering it was announced that 158 children were known to have died at four institutions in Sto:lo territory, all of them part of the Indian Residential School System. One of those schools, All Hallows, Yale was operated by the Anglican Church in our diocese. The other facilities were St. Mary’s Residential School, the Coqualeetza Industrial Institute, and the Coqualeetza Hospital.
All these institutions were part of the national program to separate Indigenous children from their families and their communities and take “the Indian out of the child” in a process many now categorize as cultural genocide.
The Truth and Reconciliation Committee and it’s 94 Calls to Action were part of the Class Action Settlement process seeking acknowledgement, responsibility and compensation for the actions that took place in these institutions.
The research discovered that many of the 158 deaths were related to illness, a few due to accidents and some of the causes of death are unknown. The All Hallows School closed in the late 1920’s and five children are known to have died there due to illness.
I cannot describe how deeply saddened and ashamed I am that the Anglican Church along with our Federal Government and the society in general were part of all of this. To hear the descriptions in the truth telling on September 21 was disturbing, to say the very least.
Please know that we continue to offer any help that we can to try to paint the fullest picture possible of all that took place. Please know that we do not in any way deny that the Anglican Church was part of this, and we have much work to do in relation to reconciliation. Please know that on behalf of this Diocese of New Westminster I apologize as sincerely and completely as I can that this happened as part of the Anglican Church’s history on these lands.
I continue to pray for more truth-telling and greater movement toward reconciliation in our Church and in Canada. We have much work to do.
We often “come away” from these experiences wondering what to do. The Sto:lo people shared five issues that need follow up and we can explore ways to support four of those five issues.
There is always something you can do to support and advance the work of Reconciliation.