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

Jaimee Peters photo of a Willow Midwives helping with a birth. Willow closed its doors March 31 because of a shortage of midwives. (Contributed)
South Okanagan’s only midwifery to re-open this summer

Willow Community Midwives was forced to close because of a shortage of midwives

This parking on the east side of Martin Street will be removed permanently Monday morning (June 21, 2021) to put in the Lake to Lake bike lane. (City of Penticton)
Parking removed permanently to make way for bike lane in downtown Penticton

Work begins Monday morning to replace parking spots with bike lane on Martin Street

Gord Portman getting ready for the Father’s Day dunk tank fundraiser for Discovery House. So far Portman has raised $3,000. (Facebook)
Penticton man takes the plunge for recovery house that helped save his life

Gord Portman said Discovery House and Pathways have been everything in his 1 year sobriety

Summerland cidery Millionaires' Row is hosting a Father's Day car and art show. (Facebook)
Vintage cars, art and cider for Father’s Day

Summerland’s Millionaires’ Row Cider Co. is hosting the car and art show

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed Eli Beauregard facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

Most Read