WARNING: This article contains details about experiences at residential schools in B.C. and may be upsetting to readers.
After the announced discovery of 158 deaths of children associated with former Fraser Valley residential schools — in addition to marked graves and potential unmarked graves — local institutions are providing condolences.
Stó:lō Nation’s Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh (Taking Care of Our Children) team provided an update on findings from work investigating missing children and unmarked burials at St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission, All Hallows School in Yale, as well as Coqualeetza Industrial Institute and Coqualeetza Indian Hospital in Chilliwack on Thursday (Sept. 21) at the historical grounds of St. Mary’s.
The City of Mission will lower flags across civic facilities to half-mast from Thursday through Oct. 5 to honour and grieve the children whose lives were tragically taken.
In a news release, the city offered condolences to all Indigenous Peoples, survivors, families, and community members grieving in light of the painful and heartbreaking knowledge shared.
“Today was a hard day for everyone in our community, but an important one for us here in Mission,” said Mission Mayor Paul Horn. “We were reminded that real children and families were profoundly harmed by the residential school system. As difficult as it is to hear these stories, it’s a critical part of how we will learn and improve our community.”
Horn says Mission is committed to doing its part in reconciliation through advocacy, inclusive community development and continued learning.
“The debt left by residential schools and colonial practices can never be repaid, but we must do our part to help in healing and in making sure that we are leaders in reconciliation,” said Horn.
Premier David Eby also expressed solidarity with Stó:lō Nation in a statement on Friday morning (Sept. 22).
“One of the traumatic legacies of residential schools in Canada is the unknown number of children who were taken away from their parents, but never made it back home,” Eby said.
Eby says the provincial government is committed to meaningful reconciliation, including the support of First Nations throughout B.C. with investigative work at former residential school sites, as well as cultural and wellness supports for communities, survivors and families experiencing trauma from findings.
Abbotsford-Mission MLA Pam Alexis echoed Eby’s statement and commended the leadership, strength and commitment of the Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh (Taking Care of Our Children) team.
“I offer my deepest condolences to those families and communities who lost their loved ones and offer my full support to the Stó:lō Nation and Stó:lō Tribal Council as they work together to document the true history and harm caused by these institutions,” Alexis said in a statement.
Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis also said he was deeply saddened by the news.
“It is imperative that the federal government support this work to further reconciliation, uncover the truth of our past and move forward together to create a better future,” Vis said in a Facebook post.
The Chilliwack School District also said it was saddened by Thursday’s announcement in a statement.
“Our hearts go out to all the families that this tragedy has impacted in Pilalt, Ts’elxwéyeqw and Sema:th. Canada’s past injustices and unimaginable treatment of Indigenous children and families is a stark reminder that we still have a long path ahead of us toward reconciliation,” the statement reads. “We acknowledge the lasting harm done to Indigenous people and communities by Canada’s residential school program, and we are committed to truth, reconciliation, and healing to create an equitable country. It is only through recognizing the reality of our nation’s past that we can hope to do better for the youth of today and tomorrow.”
The National Residential School Crisis Line offers emotional support and crisis referral services for residential school survivors and their families 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.