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OPINION – BC Housing Statememt : Tragedy of Kamloops Residential School

Vancouver/Victoria ( Statement from Shayne Ramsay, CEO, BC Housing) – The confirmation by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School has shaken communities here in BC, across Canada, and around the world.
 
This news has re-opened wounds for survivors and intergenerational survivors of residential schools. For those of you who are grieving, the Indian Residential School Survivors Society has a 24/7 support line available by calling 604-985-4464 in the Lower Mainland, toll free at 1-800-721-0066 or online at www.irsss.ca.
 
While this news is difficult, I also believe it is vital we recognize that before we can have meaningful Reconciliation, we need to confront the Truth about the history and continued impact of colonialism in our society. We must heed the call from Grand Chief Stewart Phillip to “Canada, and all of those who call yourselves Canadians, to witness and recognize the truth of our collective history.”
 
The Truth is that the residential school system was purposely designed to assimilate Indigenous peoples into our colonial structures by forcibly separating children from their families and knowingly destroying Indigenous culture, traditions, and language. The discovery of the remains of the 215 children last week confirms what Indigenous Elders and knowledge keepers have been saying for generations. While it is shocking, it should not come as a surprise. With demands for implementation of Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action 71-76, there could be more discoveries made on former residential school lands in BC and across Canada.

The impacts of colonialism, including of the residential school system, have clearly documented, drastic ramifications in our society today. In my city of Vancouver on the territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səlil̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), for example, Indigenous people make up 40% of those experiencing homelessness, despite only representing 2% of the general population.
 
All of the Indigenous people who are homeless have either directly or indirectly been impacted by residential schools, the sixties scoop, or other forms of genocide. Dismantling the systems of oppression that have led to this will take long, hard work, but that cannot dissuade us. To the contrary, decolonialization is the only path worth pursuing.
 
In our pursuit of Reconciliation, we must listen to Indigenous people. This is the focus of the report from Two Worlds Consulting for BC Housing, Reconciliation: Moving Forward Together. The report lays out recommendations that are guiding the development of our Reconciliation Strategy, which will be multi-faceted and impact all areas of our operations and service delivery.
 
While work on our Reconciliation Strategy progresses, BC Housing is also committed to continuing to partner with First Nations and Indigenous housing providers to create new relationships based on mutual respect and partnership. BC Housing works with Indigenous partners to deliver housing on reserve lands and, with the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA), in urban areas and the territories of First Nations across BC.
 
There is much work to do as we build these relationships. Today, for example, we announced more than 1,000 new affordable homes in 21 Indigenous-led Community Housing Fund projects, including 58 homes for Indigenous families and Elders in partnership with Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc. This is in addition to the more than 1,000 homes underway or complete under the Indigenous Housing Fund program.
 
To help improve the quality of existing housing, BC Housing has entered Memoranda of Understanding with several First Nations to develop and share best practices. Increasingly, we are learning from First Nations, Metis people, and Indigenous housing providers about how we can bring more trauma-informed, culturally appropriate practices to our services and programs, including most recently through our efforts to move people indoors from encampments in Vancouver and Victoria.
 
We know that there is still much work to do, and as we do that work BC Housing will be listening to our First Nations and Indigenous housing partners.

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