The horrific revelation that 215 indigenous youth rest at the site of a supposed educational institution in Tk’əmlúps (Kamloops, BC) weighs heavily upon us.
Conversations are ongoing and work continues in our office but a pit sits in my stomach. There are unspeakable wrongs to be righted. And while I struggle to find the right words I know the time for talk is long past.
The people who must remain our focus are our friends and co-workers.
We are a settler led organization that benefits directly from accessing Indigenous land. The people of this land must be heard. Their wounds are raw, their pain so immediate that to do anything other than to listen closely to their wishes is negligent.
On a hot summer night a Dene elder poured me a cup coffee and pulled a caribou shoulder from the oven. After our meal he leaned back and with tobacco smoke wafting out the screen window he shared his story of growing up on the land. Of shared moments in the forest and the sound of winter. He spoke of a loving family, of close relationships with siblings and shared meals provided by the intact ecology of the land that is his home. And the home of his people for thousands of years.
Upon these foundational memories he spoke of the day he was told he would have to leave his family to attend “school.” He spoke about the tears and the fear and of holding his brother’s hand tight as they boarded a boat that would take them thousands of kilometres from their parents. It struck me that my western culture was landing people on the moon at the same time it was tearing cultures apart.
Across from me sat his son, a friend and peer of mine, listening quietly. He did not experience residential school, but from the look on his face the impacts of these institutions were known to him. There had been residential schools in operation when he was the same age that his father was when he was taken and his community bears the weight of traumatized generations.
In this company we are learning, growing and building the future we wish to live in. It is a space where ideas can be shared, actions evaluated and critiques accepted. However by our own admission results have not been arriving fast enough. We must accelerate our efforts for these words alone fall far short of what is required.
What will we do?
We will celebrate the leaders in our midst.
We will lift up those who have the wisdom and power to enact the change so desperately needed.
We will accept responsibility for the harm our lack of action has caused and make a full accounting of our failures.
Our work will not be completed in our lifetimes but we will see this journey begin.