A MESSAGE FROM FIONA DALTON: REGARDING FORMER KAMLOOPS INDIAN RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL ISSUE
Warning: This message contains information that readers may find triggering and/or distressing.
Dear Providence family,
I wanted to amplify and build upon Harmony Johnson’s beautifully written message in my absence last week.
Since the heartbreaking disclosure of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, I am sure that we have all been dealing with our own feelings of distress, grief, guilt and horror. But as a non-Indigenous person, I have reminded myself that this is not about me and my feelings. This is about countless Indigenous families who have lived for so many years with the grief of knowing that their children were forcibly taken away, and never came home – families who never knew what had happened to their child, and were never able to arrange a funeral or visit a grave site.
I have also reminded myself that this is not ‘new’ news. We have known for decades about the horrors of residential schools in Canada. Indigenous people have told us about so many children who never returned from residential schools. We need to reflect on why we didn’t hear this before, and why it has taken this discovery of graves in Kamloops to make this issue headline news.
So having reflected on this I have tried to think about what I personally should now do. I offer these thoughts humbly, as someone who is relatively new to Canada. I am still learning how little I know, and realising that much of what I did know was not true. I am conscious that I am just at the very beginning of understanding what truth and reconciliation really means, and what role I can play in this.
But I do know that this is the time for us to act. This is on us, and it’s not the time for us to offload our emotions onto Indigenous colleagues and friends, by telling them how bad and guilty we feel. And it’s not the time for us to ask them to explain the history of residential schools to us or to organise healing ceremonies for us.
This is our work to do – and what follows are just a few personal thoughts about the actions that I am taking, and that I invite you to take.
I have been to Robson Square, and fully felt the power of those 215 empty children’s shoes. For anyone who hasn’t been there, I would absolutely recommend it. It felt so important to me to physically be there, and to feel the reality of 215 children who didn’t come home.
Secondly, I am better educating myself. Harmony’s message from last week gave a number of links to useful sites, and there is a link to additional sites and helpful resources here. If each of us read just one of these resources, and then talked to our non-Indigenous friends and families about what we had learnt, it would make a difference. For too long, we were collectively not curious enough, and we need to redress this by asking questions, doing research and finding out what we didn’t know or didn’t want to know. I would like to encourage you to also read the statement of Apology and Expression of Commitment released by Archbishop Miller yesterday to First Nations and Indigenous communities.
Thirdly, I am recommitting to action! I am personally in a privileged position of power, but together as a PHC family we are truly powerful and we can change lives. As an organisation, we have publicly stated our objective is that: “Providence Health Care is committed to the process of Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and it is embedded in everything we do.”
To make this a reality will be a lot of work. We have taken some first steps, including creating a sacred space at St. Paul’s Hospital, investing in an expanded Indigenous wellness team, establishing an Indigenous peer program and recruiting senior leaders in Indigenous wellness and reconciliation. I also want to recognise and celebrate the good work going on in many clinical services and research teams, focusing on better care for the Indigenous patients that we serve, both now and in the future.
But we have so much more work to do. I keep thinking of the last lines in Robert Frost’s famous poem:
“But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
This is how I feel. We have so far to go before we have kept our promises, and we must not rest until truth and reconciliation is a reality.