Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Kamloops Indian Residential School survivor Garry Gottfriedson at Paul Lake, near Kamloops, B.C., on June 1, 2021.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The shock being expressed about the discovery of remains at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia could be a force to bring long-awaited change, an author and school survivor says.

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,” Mr. 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 any more.”

Story continues below advertisement

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.

The Kamloops residential school’s unmarked graves: What we know about the children’s remains, and Canada’s reaction so far

“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,” Mr. Gottfriedson said. “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.

Mr. 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 Mr. Gottfriedson, who studied creative writing at 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 Mr. Ginsberg, who taught at 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.

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Mr. 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,” Mr. Gottfriedson said, 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,” Mr. Gottfriedson said. “It was always talked about. Nobody really actually knew where they were buried.”

Story continues below advertisement

Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said the remains of the children, some believed to be as young as 3, 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.”

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.

Mr. 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.”

Story continues below advertisement

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says the Pope needs to issue an apology for the role the Catholic Church played in Canada's residential school system. A papal apology was one of the 94 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally asked the Pope to consider such a gesture during a visit to the Vatican in 2017. The Canadian Press

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies