Dear members of the UBC community.
I was heartbroken to learn of the confirmation of the burial site of 215 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School last week.
I 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.
I 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.
My thoughts are with the families, the communities, residential school survivors and all who mourn. We have lowered our flags on both campuses until further notice, in shared grief and to pay our respects to the children of the Kamloops Residential School, their families and communities.
I know that this news will reopen wounds and spark 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.
I am also aware of the concerns relating to the honorary degree conferred in 1986 to Bishop John O’Grady, one-time principal of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The issues raised are deeply upsetting and we take them seriously. UBC’s Senate will be reviewing this matter.
The Indian residential schools operated for more than a century, 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 were starkly reminded last week. Children 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.
June is National Indigenous History Month, when we celebrate the history, heritage and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada.
As last week’s news reminds us though, that history includes tragedy and sorrow as well as achievement and pride.
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. Our commitment is to learn from our mistakes, and, together, to continue to move forward in partnership with Indigenous peoples.
This week, my unsung hero is Chelsea Monell, who just graduated from the MD Northern Medical Program. During her time at UBC, Chelsea worked tirelessly as an advocate for Indigenous health and Indigenous students while achieving an outstanding academic record. Thank you, Chelsea for all you do and congratulations on your graduation.
I would like to end with a #songsofcomfort selection. This week I am honoured to feature Amber Cardenas, of the Okanagan Nation, who will sing the Okanagan song.
Take care and stay safe.
Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor