As many of you may know, the remains of at least 215 children were recently unearthed from a mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The discovery was announced on Thursday by the chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation and reached national and international news outlets Friday evening.
In the wake of this devastating news, the Peninsula College community sends heartfelt condolences and unwavering support to the Native students and communities we serve, and to all first nations in Canada, the United States and beyond. We recognize the enduring pain and trauma this discovery must stir in the hearts, minds and memories of tribal nations.
To Native students at Peninsula College, please know we stand with you and your families in grief, and our faculty, counseling and student services staff are here to support you.
As parents, as faculty, and as staff who serve students, this most recent reminder of the horrific and tragic legacy of Indian boarding schools in the U.S. and Canada is deeply personal to our work as educators. We share in the outrage and anguish over the immeasurable and irreparable losses that policies of forced family separation and forced assimilation have inflicted and continue to inflict on Indigenous people.
In the U.S. the practice of separating Indigenous children from their families began in the early 19th century with forced placement in boarding schools, where attempts to destroy children’s language and culture were cruelly and systematically applied, and where physical, emotional and sexual abuse were widespread and well-documented. The policy of separating families continued by the U.S. government promoting and facilitating the adoption of Indigenous children by non-Indigenous families. According to a 1978 House of Representatives report, the U.S. government separated approximately 25-35% of American Indian children from their families. Today, American Indian children are three to four times more likely than white children to be placed in foster care.
In the Pacific Northwest, treaties negotiated during the 1850s were unequivocally broken, and we as an institution acknowledge this reality. As a college community, we need to be mindful of and sensitive to the deeply felt distrust Native students may experience when pursuing their educational goals. Our students have grown up sitting across the table from elders who may have been forced to attend a boarding school, day school or “missionary” school. It is our shared responsibility to learn more about this brutal history and cultural erasure.
While we mourn with the families of the 215 unearthed children, wherever they may be, and as we mourn with tribal communities near and far, we also bear witness to and celebrate the unbreakable spirit of these families and communities. Despite the endless project of destruction and erasure inflicted on Indigenous cultures, there are 6.79 million Native Americans from about 574 federally recognized Native American tribes currently living in the United States alone. Despite systematic attempts to extinguish traditional cultural practices and languages, these traditions and languages endure. As exemplified by the leadership and contributions of the tribes we most directly serve - the Hoh, Quileute, Makah, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and Lower Elwha Klallam tribes - Native nations continue to successfully resist economic and cultural inequity and oppression.
The college sincerely hopes that the technology that led to the identification of the mass grave of lost children at Kamloops Indian School, will likewise help to reunite other lost children with the families who have so deeply loved and missed them.
Luke Robins, President