Message Regarding Recent News About Residential Schools
June 2, 2021
Dear Western Students,
The discovery of a mass unmarked grave with the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former Indian Residential School (IRS) site in Kamloops, BC is yet another devastating testament to the reprehensible legacy of Residential Schools in Canada. Western's flags will be at half-mast for 215 hours to honour each of the children who never made it home from the Kamloops Residential School. In light of this news Western encourages each of us to take some time to reflect on our roles and responsibilities in relation to the work of Reconciliation, and what we need to do next.
Our hearts and deepest condolences are with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc People, and with Indigenous students, staff and faculty, as well as all Indigenous Peoples and Indian Residential School Survivors grieving across Turtle Island. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented over 6,000 stories of IRS survivors and the family members of those who did not make it home and published a report on their findings containing 94 Calls to Action in 2015. As an educational institution, we have a responsibility to transform those calls into actions. There is hard work ahead of us as we come to terms with the history of this country and the ongoing impacts of colonization. Each of us has a role to play as we navigate forward.
To Indigenous Western students, we want you to know that we acknowledge the continued impact that colonization has on every part of your experiences. We are grateful you are here and we are committed to taking steps forward to decolonize our campus. Whether you are connected with your community or exploring your Indigenous identity, we encourage you to visit the Indigenous Student Centre - a space where you can engage with Indigenous students, staff, and communities.
For those of you who are not Indigenous, it is crucial to take steps towards educating yourself about historical and contemporary events in our country about which you may not be fully informed. You have likely heard land acknowledgements at the opening of events and meetings at Western, and with these acknowledgements comes an expectation that we all challenge our assumptions and ignorance. You may not know where to start, and you might feel uncomfortable asking questions. That's ok - the important thing is that we each make a beginning. If you have already done some learning about Indigenous cultures and history, we encourage you to share your knowledge with friends and family so that more people can understand our responsibilities as settlers on this land.
Some things you can do right now:
- Listen to the Office of Indigenous Initiative’s monthly Mbwaach'idiwag Podcast or subscribe to their newsletter.
- Attend an offering of the KAIROS blanket exercise and participate in Orange Shirt Day events in the fall.
- Participate in Biindigen’s Indigenous History Month Challenge
- Read the Truth and Reconciliation report and Calls to Action
- Follow Indigenous accounts and conversations happening on social media about reconciliation and decolonization. Right now, you can follow Indigenous Student Centre, Indigenous Student Association, and the On Canada Project on Instagram.
- Learn about the land you live and study on. What territories and what treaties exist where you are?
We know this news can bring with it feelings of grief, sorrow and anger. There is support available as we process, and we hope you will reach out if you need it.
- A national Indian Residential School crisis line is available to provide 24/7 support to residential school survivors and others who are affected: 1-866-925-4419.
- Our counselling team is also available to support you. You can call 519-661-3030 to make an appointment. Please note, same-day crisis appointments are available.
John Doerksen & Chris Alleyne
Associate Vice Presidents, Student Experience (Interim)