Kamloops Indian Residential School survivor Garry Gottfriedson pauses during an interview at Paul Lake near Kamloops, B.C., on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. A First Nation says the remains of 215 children have been discovered buried near the former school. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Kamloops Indian Residential School survivor Garry Gottfriedson pauses during an interview at Paul Lake near Kamloops, B.C., on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. A First Nation says the remains of 215 children have been discovered buried near the former school. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VIDEO: Canadian outpouring over residential schools can bring healing, says survivor

Garry Gottfriedson says the Kamloops burial ground could force a reckoning

The shock being expressed about the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia could be a force to bring long-awaited change, says an author and school survivor.

Garry Gottfriedson, whose poems and books explore Indigenous identity, says the reaction to the news about the former Kamloops Indian Residential School is uplifting and could force governments and the Catholic Church to address the past and face the future.

“I never expected it. I did not expect it,” Gottfriedson said in an interview at a provincial park near his Kamloops home. “That shows the spirit of true Canadians that they really want to learn. They really don’t want to hide anything anymore.”

Canada’s history has established and perfected policy that hides the colonization of Indigenous people, but what is happening in Kamloops is showing Canadians the reality, he said.

“I’ve gotten phone calls from people from all over the world and from Canada expressing their sympathies, expressing their support and I just hope it doesn’t die out,” said Gottfriedson. “At least make the government and the church accountable. If we can get that done as citizens of this country, that is something major. It’s going to really, truly heal.”

He said his faith is with the federal government to drive change and not the church.

Gottfriedson, who provides counsel and curriculum advice to Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops on Secwepemc Nation protocols and cultural practices, said his residential school experiences formed the basis of his life’s work.

American beat poet Allen Ginsberg took him under his wing after reading his poems about the fear and rage drawn from the residential school experience, said Gottfriedson, who studied creative writing at the Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. He said the anger, horror and determination to rise above the circumstances facing Indigenous people in his poems appealed to Ginsberg, who taught at the Naropa University.

The Kamloops school operated between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took over operations from the Catholic Church and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1978.

READ MORE: Time to account for all child deaths at Canada’s residential schools: Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc

The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1914 and 1963. The commission noted in its 2015 report that officials in 1918 believed children at the school were not being adequately fed, leading to malnutrition.

The commission’s nearly 4,000-page account details the harsh mistreatment including the emotional, physical and sexual abuse inflicted on Indigenous children at the institutions, where at least 3,200 children died amid neglect.

Gottfriedson, 67, who attended the Kamloops residential school from kindergarten to Grade 3 between 1959 and 1963, said he witnessed abuse, but he was largely protected by his older brothers at the school.

He said his eight other siblings, his mother and up to 30 aunts, uncles and cousins from the well-known Secwepemc First Nation ranching and rodeo-riding family attended the school.

“I remember Grade 3 very clearly,” said Gottfriedson, describing how a nun would beat and humiliate students who could not speak English. “That year was hell. The woman, who was our teacher, was so cruel.”

He said students talked about a graveyard, but as a young boy, thoughts of who left the school and never returned were not something he pondered deeply until later in his writings.

“Everybody at that school knew there was a gravesite somewhere,” Gottfriedson said. “It was always talked about. Nobody really actually knew where they were buried.”

Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said the remains of the children, some believed to be as young as three, were confirmed with the help of ground-penetrating radar.

A statement on Wednesday from Archbishop J. Michael Miller of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver said the church was “unquestionably wrong in implementing a government colonialist policy which resulted in devastation for children, families and communities.”

READ MORE: B.C. Catholic archbishop apologizes for ‘unquestionably wrong’ residential schools

Each time new evidence of a tragedy is revealed, or another victim comes forward, countless wounds are reopened, he said on Twitter.

At the former school site, people continue to drop off flowers, stuffed animals and tiny pairs of sneakers, sandals and rubber boots at a monument dedicated to the children who attended the school.

Gottfriedson said the First Nation often debated demolishing the building where so much pain occurred, but decided to keep it standing as a symbol.

“Our community decided to keep it as a constant reminder that we don’t want our children to go through this,” he said. “We will teach our children, always be aware. Never forget. Never forget that this happened.”

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is offering toll-free 24-hour telephone support for survivors and their families at 1 (866) 925-4419. The KUU-US Crisis Line Society’s 24-hour line is available at 1-800-588-8717.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Indigenousresidential schools

Just Posted

Taylor Bachrach, NDP MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley addresses Parliament on June 7, in call for the federal government to stop fighting Indigenous children in court and to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action. (Image: supplied from Facebook)
NDP motion calling for immediate reconciliation action passes

Skeena-Bulkley MP Taylor Bachrach addresses federal Parliament

Coho is one of many fish species that will benefit from a project to assess fish passage in the Falls River Watershed and offer options for improved connectivity and habitat restoration. The project will be delivered with funding from the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program announced on June 8. (Photo: supplied by FWCP, istock, M.Haring)
More than $2.1 million for Northcoast fish and wildlife projects

Falls River Watershed SE of Prince Rupert to have fish passage and habitat study

UFAWU-Unifor stated on June 8 that there is no evidence of commercial fishing fleet overfishing for salmon. A salmon being weighed in Prince Rupert during the correct season in 2020. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
UFAWU-Unifor responds to DFO’s Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative

Union states there is no evidence of overfishing in the commercial fleet

Ocean Wise’s cetacean photogrammetry research program uses aerial images collected by boat-launched drones to measure the body condition of whales and assess their health and nutritional status. (Ocean Wise Marine Mammal License MML-18 photo)
LNG Canada commits $750K to Ocean Wise

New three-year initiative expands whale research, conservation and education programs in the north west

Loki, a young bald eagle is seen in recovery after being found hanging from power lines on just her second day of independence, last July. Equipped with a GPS, Loki has made a home in Prince Rupert with Hancock Wildlife Foundation asking for help in photographing her. (Photo: Hancock Wildlife Foundation)
Looking for Loki, the new Prince Rupert local

Hancock Wildlife Foundation is asking the public for help

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Most Read