Deep, deep sadness.
That is what Westbank First Nation (WFN) Chief Christopher Derickson said he felt after preliminary reports showed 751 remains were found at the site of a former residential school near the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.
The news came out late on Wednesday night, just a month after the remains of 215 children were found at a former Kamloops residential school.
Indigenous communities in the Okanagan especially felt the impact of the Kamloops announcement. Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society executive director Edna Terbasket has said it was particularly meaningful as many in the community have relatives who had gone to the Kamloops school.
Now, Derickson said he also felt deep empathy for the Cowessess First Nation and the surrounding Indigenous communities, knowing how they must feel after the discovery.
“I know how impactful this can be on survivors, on relatives of survivors and in fact, the entire Indigenous community of Canada,” he said.
With these recent remains discovered, Derickson said they show more of Canada’s history.
“They further highlight Canada’s history of planned genocide of Indigenous Peoples across Canada,” he said.
“And that history is with us today in racist policy, legislation, and in systemic racism within our society.”
But now in order to move towards healing, Derickson is asking municipalities to develop plans to implement the calls to action put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).
Another thing that municipalities can do is use Indigenous place names instead of anglicized names.
“I suggest for the City of Kelowna and the City of West Kelowna to use the proper phonetics in their name, especially when they use an Indigenous word in their city,” he said.
“The City of Kelowna, for example. It’s kiʔláwnaʔ, it’s derived from our word for Grizzly bear. But right in front of us is the opportunity to acknowledge whose land we’re on and whose language we’re appropriating.”
But at the individual level, he said supporting Indigenous communities also means taking the time to listen and learn.
“Canadians can learn and ask questions. Research. Read the TRC, there is appalling information in there. And finally, have those conversations with your family and friends,” he said.
“It needs to be talked about. This is not something that can be left to politicians to figure out. This is our Canada, and with Canada Day approaching, I think it’s good for us as Canadians to reflect on what kind of country we want to be and what kind of relationship we want to have with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada.”