Accelerating Reconciliation Efforts

June 1, 2021
Council Column

The discovery of a mass grave at the Kamloops Residential School containing the remains of 215 children’s bodies should not surprise anyone who has been paying attention to the terrible legacy of Canada’s attempt to extinguish aboriginal culture and language; but it should still shock, disgust, and disturb us.
The archival documentation for the Kamloops school, Canada’s largest residential school, suggested that 51 children may have been buried there, but the elders and leaders of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation knew the available documentation grossly understated the number of children who had actually disappeared at that school, and this past weekend their worst fears have been realized.
But, being shocked and disturbed is not enough. We need to double down on our efforts at reconciliation, and redress with the people who were here long before European settlers “discovered” Canada. And, we need to make every effort to reverse the negation of First Nations’ history and culture by taking steps to restore aboriginal language, naming, and ownership of the land they never ceded.
The Kamloops revelation should also be a reminder to us that the City of Quesnel was literally built on the bones of the Lhtako Dene. The Lhtako Dene was one of BC’s largest settled First Nations populations prior to contact and they were reduced to a few hundred people as a direct result of the diseases and lifestyle introduced to them by the early explorers and settlers -- including those heading to the goldfields that some think is Quesnel’s “true heritage.” The ancestral remains of the numerous Lhtako Dene who died as a result of contact with European settlers are buried in both mass and individual graves throughout the City.
The discovery of skeletal remains during the early phase of the G.R. Baker Hospital addition is a stark reminder of the sensitivities associated with land development and disturbance in Quesnel. Fortunately, Northern Health, the City of Quesnel, and the Lhtako Dene were all alive to the potential of discovering ancestral remains during the initial land disturbance phase of this project and Northern Health took steps to ensure that Lhtako Dene First Nation elders were engaged in blessing the construction site, and that the Lhtako Dene was apprised of the discovery and engaged in the process of reinterring the remains in an appropriate and respectful manner.
The City of Quesnel is learning from the way Northern Health and Lhtako Dene First Nation have collaborated on the hospital addition project. While the City has a signed protocol agreement with the Lhtako Dene, we’re still learning together how to actually implement the spirit and intent of that agreement with each initiative and project. Currently, we’re exploring ways to deepen our base assessment of the cultural and historical significance of the land the city is built upon in order to create a better foundation for making development decisions in the future.   
As residents, we should also be prepared to accept (better yet, embrace) the restoration of Southern Carrier language in our community and the renaming of places in a manner that recaptures the Lhtako’s and other First Nations’ millennium-long association with those places pre-contact. The City is working with the Lhtako Dene, the Southern Dakelh Nation Alliance, ?Esidalgh First Nation, and the Tsilquot’in on a number of projects that, together, we hope will restore and highlight First Nations language, history, and culture in our community.
As we reflect upon the news of the children’s remains discovered at the Kamloops Residential School, let’s commit to embracing what is needed here at home to restore First Nations culture and language throughout our City.

Mayor Bob Simpson

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