Governor General, Mary Simon speaking one year since the discovery of unmarked graves at Kamloops

Governor General Mary Simon

I’m honoured to join you here today, and I acknowledge that we are gathered on the territory of the Secwépemc Nation, specifically the territory of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc.

I also open my heart to the survivors who are with us today, and to the families and communities that suffered generational trauma from the many threads intertwined with the residential schools experience.

You knew. You’ve known for so long.

You knew what happened here, the atrocities, the deaths, the loss. And the silence.

So many children, gone. So much possibility. Gone.

It has been called a discovery. The discovery of unmarked graves of children cruelly ripped away from this life too soon. But it isn’t a discovery so much as a confirmation of your experiences and the knowledge passed down from generation to generation. 

Healing is a migration, not a destination. It begins slowly, softly, carefully. It follows its own path, carrying us forward, but also in many other directions.

It’s unimaginable that a place of learning was so cruel. It’s inexcusable that people could commit these atrocities, or that people could stand silent as they were committed.

In our communities, towns and cities, we expect our schools to be places of learning and friendship.

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc

Here, at the Kamloops residential school, that was a lie.

It was here Indigenous children unlearned who they were. Unlearned your culture and language and beliefs. Unlearned how to value themselves.

Today, we make ourselves heard across the country. Although it’s hard, we’re telling Canadians and the world about our wounds and pain, our anguish and outrage. And I know that so many have now heard us.  From every corner of the country, we are united in the horror and sadness we feel.  And now we must find a way forward together and to be united in saying “Never again will we stay silent.”

So many unmarked graves. So many children who suffered and died because society thought they knew what was best, because people turned a blind eye.

Today, we honour the victims. We honour the children who suffered, the lives gone unfulfilled and all that could have been.

Every Child Matters

No child deserves to be treated with disrespect, to be dismissed, abused, made to feel less than human. And no child deserves to have their friends disappear, never to be seen again, always wondering, am I next.

Residential schools have left a long legacy of guilt, shame, fear and fury.

But as hurt as I am, as sad as I am, I can only end by speaking of hope.

Because there is always hope.

Hope that the preservation of these places, the stories told and retold, will bring about understanding and respect.

Hope that we can begin to heal, begin to forgive ourselves for being here when so many others aren’t. And hope that Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can work together to build a better society, one free of judgement and inequality, one where everyone can speak and hear the truth.

A Canada where we truly belong without giving up who we are, where we have safe spaces to tell our stories.

We, as Indigenous peoples, grow up with legends and myths, of creation and family. Eventually, we make our own stories, which we pass down to the next generation.

At this residential school and others like it across the country, churches and governments eradicated Indigenous languages and identity through corrupt policies. They took away our stories.

Over the years, too much of our culture, language and people have been lost because of residential schools, colonization and assimilation policies.

We still feel its impact today. We still experience trauma today.

For these children, their stories were cut short, but you won’t let it end like this. By speaking up, you strip away the anonymity forced upon them by this school.

These were young boys and girls, with hopes and dreams, love in their hearts and their lives ahead of them. They had families and friends and were integral to their community and culture.

And it’s up to all of us, across the country, to tell the stories of these kids, no different than any other child, no different than our children. To say in one voice: we failed them, and you.

We can never let that happen again.