‘It shouldn’t have happened’: Emotions still raw after discovery of burial site at B.C. residential school

WATCH: Forensics experts are working to identify the suspected remains of 215 children found buried at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Paul Johnson has the latest developments in the disturbing discovery, and the impact it's having on residential school survivors.

A First Nation member from B.C.’s Interior says he’s emotionally spiraling following news earlier in the week that scores of bodies were discovered at a former residential school in Kamloops.

In an interview with Global News on Saturday, Alphonse Adams said he was surprised by Thursday’s announcement from the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation that ground-penetrating radar had uncovered the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

His face wrought with emotion, Adams, 61, a member of the Lytton First Nation, said, “It shouldn’t have happened. It’s demented … the people who did that … sometimes I cry … I try to hide my anger.”

Read more:
First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., confirms bodies of 215 children buried at former residential school site

Adams said he attended a residential school in Lytton, which was in operation from 1901-79, and that he had a connection to the students from Kamloops.

“All our schools used to be in competition, basketball, hockey, volleyball, soccer,” he said.

Like Adams, B.C. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said he was stunned by the news.

“In spite of the fact that I’ve been aware of the residential school issue for over four decades, and I’ve followed the (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) inquiry very closely and so on and so forth, I was absolutely shocked and deeply disturbed,” he told Global News.

“(I was) very angry and heartbroken to hear of this confirmation of the genocidal nature of the residential school system in regards to its design and purpose.”

He continued, saying, “I don’t think anyone can imagine how deeply disturbing this will be to the survivors, the families. The unknown question that hangs in the air is: Are there any relatives of mine within the 215 children’s bodies that were discovered at the Kamloops residential school?

“It’s going to re-traumatize and re-trigger all of the residential school survivor community, and that’s going to reverberate through our communities.”

Phillip says “we desperately need closure,” adding there has to be an unprecedented and thorough investigation along the lines of the Robert Pickton missing women investigation in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.

“This cannot be swept under the carpet,” said Phillip. “We don’t need any more political theatre in terms of apologies by the Prime Minister. We need them to engage this with all of the resources available and necessary to do a proper job.

“So it’s going to take an enormous investment to be able to bring this issue to an appropriate closure for all of the victims and their families and their communities. And this work must be guided by the Indigenous community.”

Asked what sort of help Indigenous communities need, Phillip said having response incident teams would be helpful.

“Indigenous people have been traumatized over and over again throughout our history,” he said. “We need the resources to establish our own critical response teams.

“It takes ongoing line-item budgets to sustain the groups of those highly trained people.”

He added, “We need structural change, not just public platitudes and tearful apologies. We need the resources to properly deal with these issues.”

Phillip said there was enormous support for the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, “and we deserve the same type of consideration.”

Also asked if he thinks more bodies will be discovered at former residential schools throughout the nation, Phillip said yes.

“If this has taken place at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, there’s no reason not to believe that it happened right across this country,” he said. “I think we haven’t heard the worst of this.”

Phillip called the discovery “a national crisis, and it has to be treated in that fashion. We’re not going to tolerate the federal government and other levels of government just sweeping it aside.”

“That’s not going to happen. We need answers, the families need answers. They need closure. The residential school survivors need peace of mind. And that’s why the truth is so important.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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