Statement from SFU Dean of Education Susan O’Neill and Associate Dean, Indigeneity Michelle Pidgeon on the 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

June 04, 2021
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We want to honour the memory of the 215 children on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, by standing with our Indigenous colleagues and community members, survivors, and their families. We call on our collective responsibility to educate ourselves about the genocidal violence enacted through Indian Residential School, and the multiple and complex losses that continue to be experienced today across Canada. We as a community can take tangible actions to hear the truth that must accompany reconciliation, including (but not limited to) showing compassion and respect to survivors by listening to and acknowledging their stories, taking responsibility for our own learning and understanding, adding our voices to the calls to implement the TRC calls to action, and working together to tackle systemic racism in our institutions. As June is Indigenous History month, it is a time to collectively reassert our commitment to enacting the TRC 94 Calls to Action, particularly Calls 6-12 related to Education:

6. We call upon the Government of Canada to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

7. We call upon the federal government to develop with Aboriginal groups a joint strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

8. We call upon the federal government to eliminate the discrepancy in federal education funding for First Nations children being educated on reserves and those First Nations children being educated off reserves.

9. We call upon the federal government to prepare and publish annual reports comparing funding for the education of First Nations children on and off reserves, as well as educational and income attainments of Aboriginal peoples in Canada compared with non-Aboriginal people.

10. We call on the federal government to draft new Aboriginal education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Aboriginal peoples. The new legislation would include a commitment to sufficient funding and would incorporate the following principles: i. Providing sufficient funding to close identified educational achievement gaps within one generation. ii. Improving education attainment levels and success rates. iii. Developing culturally appropriate curricula. iv. Protecting the right to Aboriginal languages, including the teaching of Aboriginal languages as credit courses. v. Enabling parental and community responsibility, control, and accountability, similar to what parents enjoy in public school systems. vi. Enabling parents to fully participate in the education of their children. vii. Respecting and honouring Treaty relationships.

11. We call upon the federal government to provide adequate funding to end the backlog of First Nations students seeking a post-secondary education. 12. We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to develop culturally appropriate early childhood education programs for Aboriginal families.

12. We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to develop culturally appropriate early childhood education programs for Aboriginal families.

The Faculty of Education is committed to Indigeneity as a core value in our Academic Plan. We take up this work as a Faculty, humbly and respectfully, as part of an ongoing learning process that recognizes the vulnerability required to be involved in the process of truth and reconciliation. This work intentionally interweaves the complexity of Indigenization (e.g., centering of Indigenous ways of knowing and being) and decolonization (e.g., challenging colonial practices and beliefs). The spirit of intention, our individual and collective journey on this path, and multiple processes that we must engage in are the critical components of this work. We gratefully acknowledge the ongoing work of those who came before us in bringing and including Indigeneity in our Faculty’s 55-year history and we are dedicated to be part of working forward for the next seven generations.

BC schools and postsecondary institutions this week have been lowering their flags to half-mast and wearing orange shirts as a show of solidarity with Indigenous students, teachers, and staff. SFU President Joy Johnson issued a message of condolence earlier this week. Flags at SFU will be flown at half-mast from May 30th to June 8th – one hour for each of the 215 children whose life was taken.

Support for Indigenous survivors and their families is available at The Indian Residential School Survivors Society. Indigenous students can access supports through Indigenous Student Centre. For our Faculty community, we encourage you to reach out to EAP services (staff), SFU Health and Counselling (students), and/or your own mental health support network.

We call on everyone in our Faculty of Education community to do more to understand Indigenous knowledges and histories, pedagogies, ways of knowing and being as we live and work on the unceded and continually occupied territories of the Coast Salish nations on which our three campuses stand. We can and must do more in ways that are respectful and with compassion as we continue to expand and deepen our commitment to reconcili-action.