Statement from the Chair: Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation’s Horrific Discovery Brings Sorrow to All Canadians

Jun 05, 2021

The discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C. has been devastating. While most Canadians are shocked and sad to learn of this tragedy for the first time, this latest news is triggering incredible pain for Indigenous people. Survivors are also reliving the trauma they experienced while attending these schools.

It is difficult to convey the scale of the suffering this tragic discovery represents. The children’s remains found in Kamloops, from a single school site, has many people asking if there are many more unreported Indigenous children’s bodies buried on the grounds of the 138 other residential schools that were in operation in Canada.

The Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, which operated here in Nova Scotia from 1929 until 1967, officially report that only 16 students died while attending that residential school. The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs have announced they will also utilize ground-penetrating radar to look for the remains of students who attended that school.

More than 150,000 children were forced to attend residential schools. The deaths of these 215 children in Kamloops represent only a portion of the estimated 6,000 children who went missing from the residential schools in Canada.

For Canadians, the recent discovery of the children’s remains is both shocking and devastating.  We implore Canadians to understand that colonization has been the driving force in the foundation of Canada and continues to the present day. Colonization has left Mi’kmaw families battered, and the Mi’kmaw Nation dispossessed from their traditional territories.  

The road to reconciliation and healing lies in acknowledging the truth of government policies that funded these schools and allowed this dispossession to occur. Colonization has had a painful impact and has created intergenerational trauma that continues to harm Indigenous children.

Canadians must acknowledge this devastation and generations of abuse brought upon by discrimination, paternalism and genocide. If you’re not aware of the real history of residential schools, please read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report and Calls to Action.

The voices of Indigenous people have been ignored for far too long. How Canadians and Nova Scotians respond to this recent discovery and other anticipated discoveries on the grounds of many other residential schools, is a matter of choice.  The choice to listen to our stories and commit to act are necessary to everyone to move forward together. Every Canadian deserves their dignity, their hope, and their human rights.

The rights of Indigenous people in Nova Scotia are protected by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, as well as the Canada Human Rights Act.  These Acts prescribe the right of all Indigenous people to live free of discrimination.

June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada. You are in Mi’kma’ki, the unceded ancestral land of the Mi’kmaw people. I encourage everyone to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the history and traditions of Indigenous people, and to consider what role they play in our journey to reconciliation.

Note: The Government of Nova Scotia, Treaty Education Nova Scotia, through the Office of L’nu Affairs, Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, and Treaty Education partners will be live-streaming a Healing Circle June 8 at 8 p.m. to coincide with the lowering of flags on all provincial buildings from “sunrise” on Monday, May 31 to “sunset” on June 8 – 215 hours, one hour for every child whose life was lost on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School. Members of the public can attend this virtual event via the Government of Nova Scotia’s Webcast site.


Cheryl Knockwood is the Chair of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. She is a lawyer and currently works for the Membertou First Nation as its governance coordinator. She has taught Aboriginal and Treaty Rights at Cape Breton University.

Ms. Knockwood recently published an Op-ed entitled Canadian implementation of the UNDRIP would benefit all treaty people in Atlantic Canada” You can read that here.