June 1, 2021

Statement on the Former Kamloops Residential School Burial Site

Statement from Arts Dean Richard Sigurdson

We in the Faculty of Arts are heartbroken by the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of the former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

These children must never be forgotten.

We send our condolences to the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation for the tragic loss of their children as a result of a policy that can only be labelled cultural genocide.

The appalling legacy of the residential school system has affected every Indigenous person and community in this country, causing intergenerational trauma and continued anguish. This new discovery of mass, undocumented burials is grim confirmation of what so many Indigenous families have known for decades – their children were taken from them and never returned.

“Death cast a long shadow over Canada’s residential schools.” These chilling words are from the opening section of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Volume 4, which focusses on Missing Children and Unmarked Burials. This volume systematically records and analyzes the deaths at the schools, and the presence and condition of student cemeteries.

Now, we have even more evidence of the deaths and burials of unrecorded and unnamed residential school students, some as young as three years old.

As human beings we are horror-struck by this awful history. As teachers and researchers, we have a special obligation. We know how crucial it is for all Canadians to be educated about residential schools. A national conversation is needed on how to acknowledge and truly learn from this history. Especially important is that all students, at all levels, be exposed to the truth about residential schools. As the chair of the TRC, Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair, has said repeatedly, education is the key to reconciliation: “Education is how we will heal, teaching our children that we are all equal is how we will stop racism and bring about reconciliation.”

Today, June 1st, marks the beginning of National Indigenous History Month. As we celebrate the history, heritage and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada, we should also use this time to reflect and learn, and to decide how to take action, personally and collectively.

Scholars and educators in the Faculty of Arts are addressing the historical and contemporary legacies of the residential school system and the systemic racism which has so deeply harmed Indigenous peoples. In alignment with the University’s Indigenous strategy, ii’ taa’poh’to’p, we are enhancing our academic programs, scholarly and creative activities, and relationships with communities through the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge, voices, practices and materials. We’re determined to create and maintain shared, ethical space that is inclusive of Indigenous peoples’ representation. And we’re working to ensure that our policies, practices and procedures are supportive and respectful of Indigenous ways of doing.

As we take our part in the journey towards reconciliation along parallel paths, we will never forget the children and families who are the victims of the residential school system. Along with Vice-Provost (Indigenous Engagement) Dr. Michael Hart and Elder-in-Residence Dr. Reg Crowshoe we agree, above all, that we must remember the children.

I know that the news of these last few days may have reopened wounds for our Indigenous students, faculty, staff, Elders, alumni and community members. There are a variety of supports available to the University of Calgary community through Mental Health Services and through the Employee and Family Assistance Plan.

Support specific to the U of C Indigenous community can be found through the Writing Symbols Lodge. Additionally, a 24-hour National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support for former Residential School students at 1-866-925-4419.


Dr. Richard Sigurdson
Dean, Faculty of Arts