Message from the President: Residential school findings

June 24, 2021

Today, for the second time in as many months, we are hearing more sad and disturbing news of the discovery of additional unmarked graves, with 751 Indigenous children and adults found by the Cowessess First Nation at the former Marieval Indian Residential School. On behalf of the Simon Fraser University community, I’d like to express our heartfelt support to all Indigenous Peoples and the intergenerational survivors of the Indian residential schools. We know this is an extremely difficult time. I stand by you in this profound grief, I see the impact of re-traumatization on Indigenous communities, and I commit to standing in support of the healing journey ahead.   
The testimonies from survivors and their families in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report made clear that there are unmarked graves of Indigenous Peoples at the sites of former Indian residential schools across the country. This documented what Indigenous Peoples have long known about the horrific legacy and ongoing trauma of residential schools. I encourage you to read or re-read calls 71-76, wherein the TRC defines the work to be done to uncover the truth and to reclaim the stories of the people who were taken to, and died at, residential schools. It is not enough to express our sadness and grief at this news—it is our responsibility to take action and commit to reconciliation personally and professionally. 
For Indigenous students, faculty and staff, please access support if you need it. 

  • Community:
    • The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is available at 1-800-721-0066, along with a 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-925-4419 for those who need immediate support.
    • The KUU-US Crisis Line Society provides an Indigenous-specific crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's toll-free and can be reached at 1-800-588-8717.
    • The First Nations Health Authority offers support specifically for survivors and families who have been directly impacted by the Indian residential school system.

I ask faculty and staff to educate themselves on ways to offer support for those who are navigating trauma. Consider flexibility on deadlines or attendance and familiarize yourself with the supports listed above. 

As Indigenous Peoples have been telling us for years, this is just the beginning. There will be further announcements of unmarked graves. Each time, we will feel the pain and the loss. As we grieve, we must also be steadfast in doing the work of reconciliation, which includes knowing and sharing the stories of the residential schools and the lives that were taken so that this history and ongoing impact is not forgotten and can no longer be ignored.

SFU’s flags will stay lowered indefinitely to honour the lives and mourn the loss of these discoveries. And we know that we have more work to do. Please get involved. 

  • Visit the reconciliation website for a summary of SFU’s commitments and actions, the Walk this Path with Us Report, resources, including courses that cover the topic of residential schools, and ideas for action individuals can take.
  • Read my personal commitment to reconciliation at SFU.

Take care of yourselves, and take care of one another.


Joy Johnson
(Pronouns: she/her/hers)
President and Vice-Chancellor
Simon Fraser University