On residential school impact: Start with listening

This piece was written by Board Voice Co-Chair Leslie Welin, who is also Chair of the Board of the Clements Centre Society.

On May 31 in the Legislature of British Columbia, Adam Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation and MLA for Saanich and the Gulf Islands, responded to the horrifying discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

“For 30 years, my relatives have been sharing their experiences from these despicable institutions. For 30 years, those stories have been hushed. This story is not shocking nor is it unimaginable… the only reason to call it unimaginable would be because these institutions, these crown governments, federal and provincial governments…either haven’t been listening to our stories, or they’ve care less. Because the reality is in our country, that some children have mattered less.”

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Academic Director of the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at UBC and Lead Investigator into Indigenous-specific racism in the British Columbia health care system, pointed out “… the responsibility belongs to all of us and our governments to exact real change. The necessary change must attack the root cause of the injustice faced by indigenous people and the state’s long-standing treatment of Indigenous people as subhuman, without human rights.”

She went on to say, “Indigenous people have brought the solutions forward in the Royal Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry – the need to uphold Indigenous rights to change government legislation, policy, and practices so these rights are recognized and implemented.”

Over the past 40 years, I have worked with children, youth and adults who have experienced violence and loss. Those experiences and the emotions that go with them are lodged in the body. It is something a person does not “get over,” but rather must find ways to manage the impacts.

So, what can we do? Start with listening to understand. Each of us needs to find a way to come to terms with the impacts of colonialism on Indigenous people. I don’t have the lived experience of residential schools or of the “colonial toolbox” that was used with intent to subjugate and eliminate Indigenous people.

I have the responsibility to look in the mirror and ask myself what is my part in this history of  genocide. I do have the responsibility to look at the shared history of Canada and BC, to ask what reconciliation means to me, and to commit to actions toward reconciliation. I have a responsibility to hold myself, my government, and Clements accountable for real change.

Scholar Janine Natalia Clark, studying the process of reconciliation in South Africa, writes “…for reconciliation to take place, acceptance of the truth is not sufficient. The truth must penetrate society to the extent that it helps to bring about fundamental changes in the way that people live their daily lives and relate to one another.”

Clements Centre Society  has a Statement on Reconciliation:


The Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Canada was created by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. For over six years, the Commission travelled the country and heard from Indigenous peoples about the impact of residential schools on their lives and communities. The outcome was the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.


CCS recognizes that residential schools and other acts of colonization have resulted in broad inequities for Indigenous people in Canada. These inequities create significant barriers for Indigenous children, youth, adults, and families in trying to access programs and services. CSS envisions a community in which all individuals are included, valued, and celebrated and acknowledges its responsibility to work towards reconciliations with Indigenous communities.

Clements Centre Society commitments

The Society will:

·  Make an acknowledgement of the Aboriginal territory at Clements meetings and at   hosted events

·  Incorporate into CCS’s strategic plan a focus on reconciliation

·  Provide education for management, staff ,and board directors on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and treaties and aboriginal people

·  Continue to build relationships with other organizations and associations with a focus on Indigenous peoples

Although, Clements has acted in many ways to put these commitments into action, there is still much to do If you have not done so, visit the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to learn more.

Adam Olsen remarked “This is a heavy burden. But it’s one we can all make lighter if we carry it together.”