People across Canada and well beyond are struggling to absorb the news that the remains of 215 children have been discovered in an unmarked burial site at the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C.
On behalf of the University of Toronto, I would like to acknowledge the dignity of each one of these 215 children, their families, and their communities. I would also like to acknowledge the impact of the news on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, other Indigenous communities whose children’s remains are among those discovered, all survivors of Canada’s Indian Residential School system, and Indigenous members of the U of T community. It comes amidst the continuing trauma inflicted by residential schools as well as ongoing concerns about the disappearance of many Indigenous people across the country.
The news is absolutely heartbreaking. It is part of an unconscionable history of injustice against Indigenous peoples in Canada extending from first contact to the present day. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) noted in its Final Report, “No Canadian can take pride in this country’s treatment of Aboriginal peoples, and, for that reason, all Canadians have a critical role to play in advancing reconciliation in ways that honour and revitalize the nation-to-nation Treaty relationship.”
For our part, the University of Toronto continues to implement the Calls to Action in Wecheehetowin: Answering the Call, the Report of our Steering Committee in response to the TRC, an ongoing process of reconciliation to which we remain deeply committed. This includes the excellent work of U of T’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives and of so many Elders, faculty, staff, students, alumni and community partners across our three campuses in the areas of teaching and learning, student experience, faculty and staff recruitment and engagement, and community-based research.
This morning, flags across our three campuses have been lowered to half-mast, as part of a nation-wide expression of grief in acknowledgement of the 215 children whose lives were lost at Kamloops. To the Indigenous members of the U of T community, if you need help at this time, please do not hesitate to reach out and access the supports available to you through the University, through Indigenous student services, My SSP or the Employee and Family Assistance Program.
Meric S. Gertler
President, University of Toronto