Content warning: This section includes content about residential schools. It may contain language, images, or content you may find disturbing; the subject matter is highly sensitive and can be triggering to individuals who have experienced trauma. If you or someone you know needs support, please reach out to the Indian Residential School Survivor Society.
At BCcampus we are grateful and honoured to work on the traditional, unceded, and occupied territories of the səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7meshulh Temíx̱w (Squamish), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), and W̱SÁNEĆ (Saanich) Peoples and the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations of the lək̓ʷəŋən (Lekwungen) Peoples. Through our work, we are grateful to build relationships with people from across B.C. and are thankful to all the Indigenous educators who have generously worked with us and provided us with teachings. We would like to acknowledge survivors of the residential school system and their loved ones as well as the communities where the unmarked graves of children have been discovered. Our hearts are with the survivors, family members, and communities as we mourn the loss of their children and stolen generations. We are dedicated to supporting reconciliation and decolonization as we advocate for systemic change in the post-secondary environment of B.C. We are here to support individuals who are beginning a journey of unlearning and learning as well as those who have already been engaged in the work of decolonizing their own minds and our post-secondary system.
The following is an op-ed article written collaboratively by a small team at BCcampus. The majority of us are non-Indigenous and recognize we still have much to learn; our opinions and understandings may change as we continue to learn and grow. We acknowledge we are writing from a position of privilege and power and that we do not speak for BCcampus as a whole.
In our efforts to create a more inclusive environment in our organization, this year BCcampus created an internal multicultural calendar that features a wide range of holidays, celebrations, and observations to help us honour the people we work with. Internally, this means we have been building our awareness and understanding of cultural holidays and months of awareness that some of us did not know much about before. Externally, we have been recognizing many of these cultural holidays and awareness months with statements, social graphics, and even a blog post or two.
The horrific details of the recent discoveries of mass and unmarked graves at residential schools in the nations of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (Kamloops, B.C.), Sioux Valley Dakota (Brandon, Manitoba), Muskowekwan (Lestock, Saskatchewan), Cowessess (Cowessess, Saskatchewan) and Ktunaxa Nation (Cranbrook, B.C.) has made many of us reconsider recognizing Canada Day. Between 1831 and 1996, 139 residential schools (as recognized by the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement) were operated by the Canadian government in partnership with the Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches. With more investigations of these sites, the number of graves will only continue to grow in the days and weeks to come.
Now Is Not the Time to Celebrate
As we mourn this tragedy, unpack the truth, and finally listen with heavy hearts to the stories that Indigenous Peoples have been telling all along, many of us feel wrong in celebrating anything right now. In Victoria, the programming that was scheduled for July 1 won’t go ahead as planned in an effort to honour the grief of the local lək̓ʷəŋən Peoples. Port Hardy and Penticton followed suit and cancelled their Canada Day celebrations as well. Activists in Vancouver have been calling for the same. Lisa Helps, mayor of Victoria, said the city “will work with local First Nations to produce a special television broadcast that will reflect on what it means to be Canadian.”
It is undeniable that settlers are benefactors of systematic genocide, and the country that many celebrate living in was built on broken promises, children being taken from their families and communities, and stolen land. For non-Indigenous people, it is important to understand and acknowledge the role the Canadian government and organized religion played and continue to play in the systemic oppression of Indigenous people and reflect on our personal responsibilities in working toward reconciliation. Reflection is required but is also not enough. Reconciliation begins with taking concrete action to move us forward in our learning and relationships with Indigenous Peoples and histories.
Consider Reflection and Taking Concrete Action
Following is a list of suggestions for how to reflect and take action on the treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada:
- Wear orange and show respect to the graves found at residential school sites.
- Educate yourself or someone else with this curated list of learning resources.
- Support Indigenous businesses (and follow them on social media!):
- Birch Bark Coffee
- Carter-Ryan Gallery artwork
- Cheekbone Beauty
- Decolonial Clothing Co.
- Eighth Generation blankets, towels, clothing, jewelry
- Inuk360 arctic fur and leather jewelry and accessories
- Jamie Nole prints and paintings
- Kekuli Cafe
- Kokum Scrunchies
- Kootana Crystal & Mineral crystals, minerals, rocks, and gems
- Lisa Beading jewelry
- Michif Cultural Connections handmade products and workshops
- Michelle Stoney artwork
- Salmon n’ Bannock restaurant
- Sisters Sage soaps and bath bombs
- Skwachàys Lodge
- Swálwen Botanicals skincare
- Wild About Plants medicine
- Watch Indigenous movies.
- Read Indigenous authors like Monique Gray Smith, Thomas King, and Richard Wagamese. Better yet, purchase their books from an Indigenous-owned bookstore like Massy Books, Iron Dog Books, or Strong Nations.
- Find out whose territory you live/work on.
- Learn about a residential school close to you.
- Watch one or more of the recordings (45–120 minutes) from our BCcampus Indigenous Speaker Series:
- A Conversation with Mixed First Nations Beader Lisa Walker
- Land Acknowledgements – A Conversation with Post-Secondary Students
- A Conversation with Co-Founder of Sisters Sage Lynn-Marie Angus
- A Conversation with TELŦIN TŦE WILNEW Instructor Ruth Lyall
- Celebrating Indigenous History Month
- Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day