On Monday May 31, I spoke in the Legislation on a Matter of Urgent Public Importance – specifically on the need to address the situation of 215 children found buried near the Indian Residential School near Kamloops in British Columbia. My comments (from Hansard) are below.
MATTER OF URGENT PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
Mr. Gerrard: Seventeen years ago, in the spring of 2004, I visited the friendship centre in Brandon. I was shown a plaque by Andrea Hinch-Bourns, which honoured children who'd stayed at the Brandon residential school between 1896 and 1923.
During this period, children were brought to the Brandon residential school from communities all over Manitoba. Sadly, as marked by the plaque, too many of these children never got to go home.
Before this, I hadn't realized the tragic toll in lives which has resulted during times when children attended residential schools. It was a shock to learn this. It was a shock I will not forget.
Recently, we've learned with shock, at the discovery of the bodies of 215 children who died at the Kamloops residential school. It is a shock that has resonated across Canada.
I begin by extending my sympathy to the members of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation who were, have been or are again being traumatized by the experience at this residential school or by this recent discovery.
Since I visited the Brandon Friendship Centre and saw the plaque, much more has been learned of the situation there. We now suspect that there were many more children who attended the Brandon residential school who died while they were there and were never able to go home.
Sadly, too many of the families of the children who died were not even properly notified. The loss of a child for any reason is one of the most tragic things that can happen to a family. A child being lost without any word of what happened is unbelievable.
As we consider our reactions to the discovery of the bodies of the 215 children found in Kamloops, we reflect upon the increased awareness we are experiencing of the tragedies which occurred at residential schools. We live today in the shadow of the work of Justice Murray Sinclair and his fellow Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners: Dr. Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild. They and many who worked at or told stories to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have provided so much detail of what happened at the residential schools.
Their work and subsequent efforts have identified more than 4,000 who died from disease or accident while attending residential schools. The recent discovery emphasizes what has long been suspected: that there are many more still to be found.
We must use today to rededicate ourselves to implementing all the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Progress so far has been too slow.
Recommendations 71 to 76 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission deal specifically with missing children and burial information. These recommendations highlight much of the work that still needs to be done to identify burial sites and to search these sites, and to provide information on children who died when they were in residential schools to the families who lost children.
In Manitoba, we need a major effort to search all sites in our province to look for additional missing children. Let us all ensure this effort occurs.
These and many other calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission need attention. They need attention so that more can be known of what happened. They need attention as an important part of the process of reconciliation.
It is a disappointment that the Province has not made more progress on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There needs to be much greater urgency to act. It is to be hoped that the incredible loss, which has just been discovered in the Kamloops community, will re-energize all of us to act, to move forward in reconciliation in what we do every day, to reveal more of the history, even when it is painful, and to rededicate ourselves to improving how our precious children and grandchildren are cared for today.
And in particular, we need to help children and families so that no more need to be apprehended and put in the care of Child and Family Services, and that where children are still apprehended, as about 10,000 children still are, their connections to their family are maintained and they are helped to the extent that they can to do as well as they possibly can.
These are my thoughts today. My prayers and thoughts continue for the children who were lost, and I share with all MLAs the hope and expectation that we can do better in the world ahead.
Miigwech. Merci. Thank you.