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Statement on the Discovery of 215 children who died at Kamloops Residential School

The discovery of two hundred and fifteen children who died at a residential school in Kamloops, BC is a tragic shock, but it should not be a surprise. The Federal Government knew a century ago that they were complicit in a crime.

The story of children at residential schools is also the story of parents who had their children forcibly taken from them by the government, only to hear that their child had died. The heartbreak is unimaginable and has been known for decades.

In 1922, P.H. Bryce published "The Story of a National Crime" that laid out the Federal Government's refusal to act on TB in Residential Schools, calling it a "criminal disregard for treaty pledges".

The residential schools were deliberately created not just to indoctrinate Indigenous children and erase a people, but to shatter families so they could be driven off the land that was often being given free to settlers.

We cannot turn a blind eye to present reality: governments never stopped tearing apart Indigenous families with horrific consequences. The residential schools were followed by the 60s scoop, then CFS.

In the last 20 years, over one hundred children have died in Manitoba who were in the custody of Child and Family Services. About 10,000 children in Manitoba are in custody, 90% Indigenous. At one point, CFS was seizing a newborn a day, every day - so-called "birth alerts".

In Manitoba and BC, governments not only took children from their families, but clawed back their federal special allowances. In Manitoba, successive governments took $338-million from First Nations children in custody, then kept it.

The present-day issue of Indigenous children in custody of CFS is the single most important moral and political issue that Canada faces, not just for righting historical wrongs, but in order to create a future together for those children, their families and their communities.

That means ensuring that Indigenous peoples have equal access, not just to service, but to the opportunities that many of us can take for granted, that Indigenous people have been deliberately denied by their separate and unequal treatment under the law.

This means that after the flags have been lowered, we need to commit to the real and hard work of reconciliation, which is an ongoing act of justice, healing, care, and mutual support.

We must not shy away from it. We have an obligation to forge a new peace, to the benefit of all of us.

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