The union representing British Columbia teachers is calling on members to wear orange and schools to lower flags to half-mast this week, to honour the 215 children found in an unmarked mass grave at the former Kamloops residential school.
B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring told Global News the union had passed a motion supporting the initiative at already-planned meetings over the weekend.
READ MORE: ‘Remember us’: Orange Shirt Day’s B.C. founder says residential schools still recent history
Teachers are also planning walk-ins as a show of solidarity with Indigenous students and staff.
“We want to support teachers as they try to make sense of this tragedy with their students, and so we are — this is one way of reaching out and we can’t do it alone,” Mooring said.
“It is so important to do it in such a sensitive way and in an age-sensitive and age-appropriate way — that’s absolutely possible and is happening. It needs to continue and we need to do this work on a broader scale within our education system.”
The remains, which have not been exhumed, were discovered by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc using ground-penetrating radar, confirming what many local Indigenous people had said for years.
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1915 and 1963.
READ MORE: By the numbers: A look at residential schools
Mooring said that the residential school system is already a part of B.C.’s curriculum, but that work remains both to tackle systemic racism in the school system and to better incorporate Indigenous culture and history into the curriculum.
“(We need) resources to be curated at a local level so that when teachers are teaching about Indigenous knowledge and culture, they’re doing so about the Aboriginal communities that exist in the area where they’re teaching and where children are going to school,” she said.
“Those local resources are critical. We still have a long way to go in that regard.”
READ MORE: ‘It shouldn’t have happened’: Emotions still raw after discovery of burial site at B.C. residential school
On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for flags at federal buildings, including the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, to be flown at half-mast.
A number of B.C. communities, including Vancouver and Nanaimo, have also ordered flags to be lowered, as has the University of British Columbia.
READ MORE: Flags on federal buildings to be lowered in honour of B.C. residential school victims
The B.C. teachers’ orange shirt action is scheduled to run from May 31 to June 4.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support to former residential school students and those affected.
The crisis line can be accessed 24-hours a day, seven days a week at 1-866-925-4419.
A number of celebrities have reacted to the tragedy, calling for accountability and for further knowledge to be taught on the subject.
To honour the 215 children whose lives were taken at the former Kamloops residential school and all Indigenous children who never made it home, the survivors, and their families, I have asked that the Peace Tower flag and flags on all federal buildings be flown at half-mast.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) May 30, 2021
On my reserve, the graveyards were visible from the windows of the St. Margaret’s Indian Residential. The kids there farmed, did chores, cared for animals, every time they did so, the graveyards were visible. My grandparents told me stories abt friends that died at the school. pic.twitter.com/LHU0pzrL6D
— Ryan McMahon (@RMComedy) May 29, 2021
Miigwech Shelby and crew for doing this.
A lot of folks are struggling with the news of the 215 children discovered in a mass grave at the Residential School in Tk’emlups.
A healing act for a sad time. pic.twitter.com/qFHJbxsUt2
— Wab Kinew (@WabKinew) May 30, 2021
You were found in unmarked graves
Acts of genocide
Your precious lives taken
With spirits so strong
we heard your cries
To go home
Rest well little ones
And fly high with our ancestors
We will not forget you
You are sacred
— Leah ProudLakota (she/her) (@LeahGazan) May 30, 2021
There are more unmarked graves around other residential schools.
— tanya tagaq (@tagaq) May 29, 2021
(2 of 3) A few years ago we put out hockey sticks in a show of solidarity for the loved ones of the Humbolt tragedy. It didn't solve the problem and make things right, but it let the families know that as a country we support them. I think the same thing here.
— Don Amero (@donaldamero) May 31, 2021
Should there not be some kind of national pause to acknowledge the scale of what has been found at Kamloops? Am I missing something?
— Ian Young (@ianjamesyoung70) May 29, 2021
The remains of 215 Indigenous children have been found at a former residential school in Kamloops, BC (some as young as 3 years old).
The last Canadian residential school closed in 1996.
It baffles me that we even debate Canada's genocide of Indigenous people.
— Naheed Dosani (@NaheedD) May 28, 2021
Today, my community honoured the spirits of 215 babies lost at the Kamloops Residential School. We placed our moccasins on the stairs of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford. We offered tobacco. We cried. We must never forget and acknowledge these truths. pic.twitter.com/rv0s4fANNK
— Nicole McCormick (@tvgurl) May 31, 2021
PLEASE read this if you are unaware of how imperfect Canada is. Horrible perspective to read from. Thank you Chelah for putting this thread together. #ResidentialSchool https://t.co/P8Vv5IjKjf
— Mark Ghanimé (@markghanime) May 30, 2021
Why haven’t the residential school staff, clergy faced justice 4 their crimes of murder & abuse against Indigenous children? Nazi’s were trialed for their roles in genocide. Sure, some may be passed away, but some must be still alive? Why were they allowed to get away with this?
— Brandi Morin (@Songstress28) May 29, 2021
Last week it was discovered that they are forcibly putting in IUDs into Native kids under 10, this week they discovered 215 bodies of Native kids under a school. These are issues that are person to me and so many of us.
It's so dangerous just being a Native child.
— Lucas Brown Eyes (@LucasBrownEyes) May 28, 2021