Hi, I’m Jacqueline Ronson, The Discourse’s lead reporter for the Cowichan region. Welcome to Cowichan This Week! This edition looks different from a normal week, and is dedicated to honour and remembrance for the 215 children found buried in unmarked graves at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Next week, you can expect your regular programming of local news, events and announcements. Sign up to get these newsletters in your inbox.
This newsletter includes content about residential schools that some may find triggering. Please take care and reach out if you need support. Survivors and their family can reach the Indian Residential School Survivors Society’s 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-925-4419. The number for the Vancouver Island Crisis Line is 1-888-494-3888.
A call to action
Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands and a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, rose on Monday to call on B.C.’s legislative assembly to urgently respond to the discovery of unmarked graves of 215 children on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory, at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Noting that B.C.’s wealth and land came from the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, he demanded that the province immediately make available all resources needed for trauma and healing services, to restore Indigenous languages and to restore First Nations houses of culture and governance.
He demanded that the members of the legislative assembly respond as if it was their own children that never returned from school.
This week, I am deep in grief. I cannot write a normal newsletter because this is not a normal week.
I am a settler on these lands, with ancestral roots tracing back mainly to Western Europe. I know that this work for settlers is difficult — to open our hearts to the truth of what has happened and continues to happen to the Indigenous people of these lands.
It’s heartbreaking. And my heart is broken. I will mourn those children like they are children from my own village, because as far as I’m concerned, they are. This truth belongs to all of us. We walk into the future together.
Here are seven ways that non-Indigenous allies can support healing for Indigenous people in the wake of this tragedy. This article is a collaboration between The Discourse and IndigiNews. It seeks to amplify calls to action from Indigenous people and communities that have been shared in recent days. We’ve drawn heavily from this list of actions shared by the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s 94 calls to action, and conversations between IndigiNews reporters and Indigenous leaders at the forefront of this work.
IndigiNews leads the way
I lift my hands in appreciation to my colleagues at IndigiNews, sister publication to The Discourse, who are paving a new path for responsible reporting in the wake of the news from Kamloops. Kelsie Kilawna, a Syilx and Secwépemc mother and journalist, immediately spoke up to remind reporters that their attempts to rush to this story could do enormous harm if protocols are not respected.
The IndigiNews team has committed to beginning the work by situating themselves in the story. You can read Kelsie’s reflections on how she will approach the reporting here. They have committed further to reporting that prioritizes the wellbeing of survivors by ensuring that safety plans are in place and followed up on for those sharing their stories.
In Cowichan and beyond, communities mourn
Members of Cowichan Tribes led a prayer ceremony on Monday to honour the 215 children found at Tk’emlúps. The public sharing of this ceremony is a gift to our communities. Video from the live-stream is available on Facebook.
Students at the Ditidaht Community School made a 215 piece “chain of hope” to honour the lost children.
Many are wearing orange shirts this week, a symbol of remembrance for the children who attended residential schools. The giant hockey stick at the Cowichan Community Centre will glow orange this week, too.
At public buildings in the Cowichan region and beyond, flags will fly at mast for 215 hours.
On June 2 North Cowichan council approved a motion from Mayor Al Siebring to write to the Prime Minister and other officials asking the federal government to provide adequate funds for First Nation-led investigations of unmarked graves. The United Nations is also calling for an exhaustive investigation into unrecorded deaths and unmarked graves, according to reporting by the Canadian Press.
The federal government said on Wednesday that it will make $27 million immediately available towards those efforts.
On Thursday, June 3, the federal NDP will bring forward a motion calling on the government to end its legal battles against Indigenous children and residential school survivors, among other things.
In downtown Langford, residents came together in ceremony on Monday to honour the children. Shalu Mehta, reporter for The Discourse, was invited to witness. Read her story and see more photos here.
Lifting up Indigenous healing, creativity, resiliency and joy
As I scroll through Twitter this week, I’m struck by the voices of Indigenous people demanding that this month, named National Indigenous History Month, not be dominated by stories of Indigenous trauma.
All this year, Gitxsan/Amsiwa journalist Angela Sterritt has been amplifying Indigenous artists of diverse disciplines in a Twitter thread. Check that out here.
The IndigiNews team is collecting photos and stories that represent Indigenous healing and strength to compile into a photo essay. Check out the details here on how to make a submission. [end]
Editor’s note, June 4, 2021: A previous version of this article named the author’s ancestry as Eastern European. It is in fact Western European. Jacqueline Ronson traces her ancestry to England, Scotland, Switzerland, France and other countries.