A Message from the President and CEO

This week has seen a stark and painful reminder of a traumatic history, which continues to affect Indigenous communities. I am sure many of us are shocked, saddened, and deeply disturbed by the recent news out of Canada regarding the discovery of unmarked graves of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. This was announced late last week by the leadership of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, home to many survivors and families who attended the school.

We have connected with our partners across Canada. Memorials and vigils are taking place in many communities. Government buildings, schools and offices are flying flags at half-mast. Indigenous people are conducting ceremonies.

One of the most shocking aspects of this news is that Indigenous people in Canada, while grieving for these young souls, are not surprised. In fact, they are steadying themselves – and telling Canadians to be ready – for more findings of this kind. They are calling for full searches of the grounds of all the former residential schools.

The discovery is a bleak reminder that the residential schools are not consigned to Canada’s past. They are with us today. This moment of reckoning requires concrete action towards reconciliation and self-determination. It compels all to commit to honouring the path set out in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, which were released six years ago June 2.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) closely examined the residential schools’ tragedy, hearing directly from hundreds of survivors of the schools as well as individuals who worked there, ran them, studied them, and others who bore witness. The result is the 94 Calls to Action, often referred to as a roadmap to reconciliation. There are recommendations for all of us, all sectors of society. I urge you to read them and find your place in them.

I say with some hope and all humility that the Foundation wants to play a part in the journey towards reconciliation. Our EleV Program, launched in the wake of the TRC final report, is a commitment to Indigenous youth to support them in their pathways through education and on to meaningful work and livelihoods based on their values, traditions, and aspirations. It is about transforming broken systems through bold solutions founded in the vision and values of Indigenous youth, communities, and Nations. It is about centering and amplifying the voices of Indigenous youth.

As a Foundation working with Indigenous youth and communities, I believe it is important that we show our support for the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation and all Indigenous peoples, that we honour the children who lost their lives, and their families whose lives have been forever changed.

The residential schools represent the worst efforts of assimilation and colonization masked in a thin veil of “education.” We can rededicate our efforts to supporting the best efforts of Indigenous young people to transform education into a system that embraces and embeds their cultures, languages, traditions and worldviews, and leads to meaningful livelihoods.

Reconciliation is not easy, but it is essential. We are walking alongside Indigenous youth, communities, and Nations with respect and commitment to support the journey towards reconciliation and Mino Bimaadiziwin (“to live a good life”). The voices that were silenced, of those that did not come home, are a powerful reminder that we must listen to the voices of young Indigenous people today. We must hear them as a call to action for all of us.

Reeta Roy, President and CEO