WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

The union representing teachers across British Columbia is calling on educators, their classes and schools to wear orange, hold ceremonies and fly flags at half mast from May 31 to June 4 as a form of reconciliation with Indigenous people.

The move follows the discovery of buried remains of more than 200 children at the site of a former residential school for Indigenous children in British Columbia’s southern Interior.

On Saturday representatives with the B.C. Teachers Federation passed a motion bought by Chilliwack Secondary School educator Rick Joe at a provincial assembly.

“There’s a lot of communities that will be in mourning this week and that intergenerational trauma, the kids are going to feel it,” he said. “They may not know what’s going on, but they’re going to feel something different and the kids in schools are going to need that little extra support.”

Joe’s traditional name is Skalúlalus and he is member of the Lil’wat Nation. He says he has family members who attended Kamloops Indian Residential School where the remains of 215 children were discovered this past week.

“I’m still dealing with it,” he said upon learning the news on Friday.

“I attended Indian Day School, so I’m a survivor as well and my grandmother attended that school … and I believe my grandfather did as well and I was devastated. I cried probably about 10 times yesterday.”

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School is seen on Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C. The remains of 215 children have been found buried on the site, according to the nation. (Andrew Snucins/The Canadian Press)

The discovery of the remains by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation is another heartbreaking reminder of the abuse and deaths that occurred at residential schools across Canada that were put in place as part of an assimilation effort imposed on Indigenous peoples to destroy their cultures and suppress their languages.

The Catholic Church ran the Kamloops Indian Residential school between 1890 and 1969. The federal government then took over the facility’s operation and ran it as a day school until it closed in 1978.

The motion from Joe on Saturday passed with an overwhelming majority and the federation says it will take steps on Monday to have members at schools in their individual districts prepare to wear orange, which is a symbol of reconciliation, along with asking the province to approve flying flags at half-mast from Monday to Friday.

“And we think it’s really important to make a statement against the atrocities that happened at residential schools,” said BCTF president Teri Mooring. “This discovery is making us heart-sick.”

Annie Ohana, an anti-oppression educator in the Surrey school district, voted in favour of the motion on Saturday and is confident most BCTF members will bring the actions to their schools starting on Monday.

“We sit in front of kids every day and it’s kids their age that were unfortunately murdered essentially by the state so I think some real formal acknowledgement from districts from [the] ministry from across the board is very much needed if we are at all going to have a discussion about how we move forward from this,” she said.

Mooring said the BCTF is also calling on the province to implement recommendations from 2015’s report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, especially recommendation 57, which calls upon governments at all levels to provide education to all public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools.

Support available

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Within B.C., the KUU-US Crisis Line Society provides a First Nations and Indigenous-specific crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s toll-free and can be reached at 1-800-588-8717 or online at kuu-uscrisisline.com.

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