We are heartbroken to learn of the confirmation of further burial sites of children at former residential schools. These discoveries are horrifying.
We can only imagine the grief and pain that the families and communities of the missing children are feeling. UBC stands with First Nations seeking the truth about the missing children. We support having the children returned to their families and communities with proper protocols. May we honour their lives and the survivors and never forget their stories.
Our thoughts are with the families, the communities, residential school survivors and all who mourn.
We know that the news of these discoveries reopens wounds and sparks grief, anger and sadness for many in the UBC community. If you need support, services are available: through the First Nations Longhouse, and counselling services on both the UBC Vancouver and Okanagan campuses.
As was noted in the Apology issued on the occasion of the opening of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre in 2018, the Indian residential schools operated for more than a century as a partnership between the Canadian government and major churches, with the last school closing only in 1996. For much of that time, Indigenous children were forcibly removed to schools that sought to break their ties to their families, communities, and culture.
Many spent their entire childhoods in the schools and many died there, as we have been starkly reminded: the mortality rates at some schools at times surpassed 60 percent. Most suffered emotional or mental abuse, and many suffered physical and sexual abuse. The devastating legacy of the Indian residential school system has affected nearly every Indigenous family and the effects on communities are still here today.
Universities, including UBC, bear part of the responsibility for this history, not only for having trained many of the policy makers and administrators who operated the residential school system, and doing so little to address the exclusion from higher education that the schools so effectively created, but also for tacitly accepting the silence surrounding it.
We have made mistakes, and we cannot presume that we will not make more in the future. However, our commitment is to learn from our mistakes, and, together, to continue to move forward. Our commitment, as a university, and as a community of many members, must be strong, and must always result in meaningful action. That is our realization, and it is our duty to act.
The university, through its Indigenous Strategic Plan, is committed to addressing the impact of colonialism within the university and across both its campuses. The ISP is our guiding framework to help us collectively take action to advance the implementation of Indigenous peoples’ human rights at UBC.
Today, more than ever, we must make our voices collectively heard that much more needs to be done to address the significant and longstanding colonial structures and systems, which have so negatively impacted many of our community members. We are committed to doing this work and moving forward with meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor
The University of British Columbia
Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of British Columbia Okanagan