Perched on the side of the number 5 highway, just a few minutes’ drive from the Thompson Rivers University campus sits the Kamloops Indian Residential School. This school represents 1 of 139 that existed in the Canadian Indian Residential School System, which over the course of several decades was responsible for the genocide of Indigenous culture, language and life in Canada.
Although the idea of Residential School horror appears as something that happened long ago and far from our reality, the Kamloops Indian Residential School was operational until 1977. Within our lifetimes the practice of cultural genocide was not only alive but government-sanctioned.
The Canadian Indian Residential School system was federally run, under the Department of Indian Affairs. Attendance for children between the ages of 7 and 16 was mandatory. This policy was known as “aggressive assimilation”.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School building was originally built in 1890 but was functional as a Residential School beginning in 1893 when the operation was assumed by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The building was partially destroyed by fire in 1924 but was rebuilt and expanded.
At its peak, the Kamloops Indian Residential School housed 500 students. Living conditions within the school were often inadequate and dangerous. There was often a lack of food and inaccessibility to sanitation. Lice, malnutrition and influenza were often rampant amongst the children.
The function of the school was to assimilate Indigenous children to mainstream Canadian society, which included the practice of Christianity and the English or French languages. It was believed that Indigenous culture, including language and spirituality, inhibited the modernization of society. Assimilation practices were then used to bleach the Aboriginal culture, to promote modernization.
Indigenous children were prohibited from speaking their language, using their birth names or practicing their spirituality. Communication with their families was barred or limited to English, which many families did not speak.
Resistance or failure to comply with Residential School practices was met with emotional and physical abuse.
The Lasting Effect
The intergenerational trauma experienced by survivors of the Kamloops Indian Residential School is something that can be seen and felt in our community. There are an estimated 80 000 residential school survivors alive in Canada today.
Intergenerational trauma is experienced by survivors and passed on through subsequent generations. Often times survivors and their families do not have the opportunity or resources to be treated or heal properly. This lack of support allows the cycle of intergenerational trauma to be perpetuated.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
On June 2, 2008 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was created with the goals of documenting the events of the Canadian Indian Residential School System and for fostering a place where the survivors of the system can come forward with their stories.
In December 2015 the TRC released their final report, which summarized the efforts and findings of the commission. The report estimates that during the 120 years of residential school existence, an estimated 150 000 children were forced into the system and as many as 6000 of those children were killed during their time in the schools.
The TRC’s final report concluded that the efforts of schools to remove children from their families and purposely assimilate them amounted to cultural genocide.
How Can I Help?
You can help by learning about the impacts of Residential Schools on our local Indigenous peoples and the ongoing impacts in our community. Visit the Secwepemc Museum located in the former Kamloops Indian Residential School historic site to learn more and hear the stories of survivors’ resilience. Reclaiming the history, language, and culture of the Secwepemc people is an important community project worthy of support. Visit the museum at 200-330, Chief Alex Thomas Way in Kamloops or click here for more information.
For more information contact:
Vice President Equity
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada – http://www.trc.ca/index.html
- A History of Residential Schools in Canada – https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/a-history-of-residential-schools-in-canada-1.702280#:~:text=Residential%20schools%20were%20federally%20run,all%20native%20children%20attended%20school.
- Truth and Reconciliation by the Numbers – https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/truth-and-reconciliation-commission-by-the-numbers-1.3096185
- Kamloops History: The dark and difficult legacy of the Kamloops Indian Residential School – https://www.kamloopsthisweek.com/community/kamloops-history-the-dark-and-difficult-legacy-of-the-kamloops-indian-residential-school-1.24215330