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Notes from Tk’emlups te Secwepemc

Jody Vance: Justin Trudeau’s belated visit to the Kamloops Indian Residential School site was important, but much more important is Canadians learning what really happened there.

Words escape me.

The last few days listening to the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc people were life changing. Hard enough for me, it kept hitting how we might only imagine the pain for those living with trauma, either firsthand or generational.

This is not a headline. It is not a story. It is horror, a Canadian horror.

Yes, there were elders and leaders – including the prime minister – and yet the most impactful person that I met was Rose Grace Miller, a survivor.

Rose was taken from her family at just 7 years old, not knowing where she and her siblings were going. The three of them stood in a cattle transport truck for the 40 kilometre trip from her reservation to the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Her oral history has been confirmed. Even at age 80, Rose still recounts abuse she suffered as though it happened just yesterday. Once, after running away from the school to attempt to mail a letter to her father, hoping he’d come get her and her brothers, she was caught and physically punished by the nuns.

“I remember they stripped us to our bloomers, made us lay face down on the cot and — pushed up their sleeves — to use the thick strap pulled from a machine to strike us one by one.”

My heart broke for Rose and she continued, “I wouldn’t cry though, I didn’t want them to have the satisfaction.”

Rose was 8. Rose is 80.

The horrors and atrocities might make one wish to look away, we mustn’t.

Rose didn’t. Decades after her five years at the school in the late ‘40s, she returned in 1971 as a nurse.

“There were 450 or more children here when I returned. We changed things and more First Nations were part of the school; the nuns were gone. At the end of my time here as nurse there were only 60 children left here. We made change”

Without meaningful admission to what the history has done to Indigenous Peoples there is no way to wash clean a nation that allowed abuses to not only go unpunished but continue. These church-run, government-mandated houses of horror must be documented with accuracy and full responsibility.

Canada was, for more than 80 years between 1890 and 1976, a place of cultural assimilation.

I see all too many Canadians clinging to old narratives, or absolving themselves by saying it was “another time.” To move forward, these must stop.

This is on our generation to listen and learn.

This Middle is about the shared responsibility of most Canadians to do exactly that, listen and learn. To ensure that any and all non-Indigenous people make a point of educating not just ourselves, but our family and friends.

Commit to learning The Path Forward Plan that National Assembly Of First Nations Chief Roseanne Archibald offered as a roadmap for Prime Minster Justin Trudeau’s government Monday.

Think of Rose, and the thousands of children like her. Use your words for truth. Our words matter.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.