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

Al Kowalko drives Sooke School District’s first electric bus that began operation in May. The board decided on June 15 that all future buses will be electric, asking the province for more funding to support the program. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Sooke school board agrees to make all future buses electric

Board to ask province to increase funding to cover the extra up front cost

Brian Korzenowski rides with Athena, left, and Venus who are safely strapped in and goggled up with the wind in their fur. (Zoe Ducklow - Sooke News Mirror)
Double-dog motorcycle sidecar brings smiles to Sooke Road commuters

Athena and Venus are all teeth and smiles from their Harley-Davidson sidecar

Camper the dog was found Wednesday night by someone walking their own dog along Hollywood Crescent. She had gone missing after a violent attack on June 11. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Camper the dog found safe after fleeing violent van attack in Victoria

Camper was found on Hollywood Crescent Wednesday night

North Saanich is in the process of revising its tree protection bylaw. The proposed changes have drawn much public interest and criticism, as council heard this week during their special meeting on the matter. (Courtesy District of North Saanich)
Revisions to tree protection bylaw in North Saanich face cutting criticism

Councillors to take up issue again in August after staff summarize massive public feedback

In January 2019, Grade 5 students from Glenlyon Norfolk School, accompanied by Grade 11 student Anastasia Castro, gave a presentation to Oak Bay council seeking a ban on plastic bags in the district. (Black Press Media file photo)
Oak Bay set to survey businesses on single-use plastic products

Survey gathers information ahead of expected legislation on provincial, federal level

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko, a Vancouver lawyer, has been suspended from practice for two months after admitting that his firm mismanaged $44,353.19 in client trust funds. (Acumen Law)
High-profile B.C. lawyer suspended over $44K in mismanaged client trust funds

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko admits to failing to supervise his staff and find, report the shortage

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden to sign bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

New American stat marks the nation’s end of slavery

Kimberly Bussiere and other laid-off employees of Casino Nanaimo have launched a class-action lawsuit against the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
B.C. casino workers laid off during pandemic launch class-action lawsuit

Notice of civil claim filed in Supreme Court of B.C. in Nanaimo against Great Canadian Gaming

John Kromhoff with some of the many birthday cards he received from ‘pretty near every place in the world’ after the family of the Langley centenarian let it be known that he wasn’t expecting many cards for his 100th birthday. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Cards from all over the world flood in for B.C. man’s 100th birthday

An online invitation by his family produced a flood of cards to mark his 100th birthday

FILE – Nurse Iciar Bercian prepares a shot at a vaccine clinic for the homeless in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, June 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
B.C. scientists to study effectiveness of COVID vaccines in people with HIV

People living with HIV often require higher doses of other vaccines

A 50-year-old woman lost control of her vehicle Tuesday, June 15, crashing through a West Vancouver school fence that surrounds playing children. (West Vancouver Police)
Driver ticketed for speeding near B.C. school crashes into playground fence days later

‘It’s an absolute miracle that nobody was injured,’ says Const. Kevin Goodmurphy

Most Read