MLA Adam Olsen’s speech following discovery of children’s remains at former residential school

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2021-06-01 22:09 [p.7810]

Mr. Speaker, I begin by acknowledging that I am on the territory of W_SÁNEC people and I speak in SENCOTEN and raise my hands to you.
[Member spoke in SENCOTEN]


I particularly raise my hands today to one of my dearest friends, a constituent who is also my MLA. I am not using my words tonight. I am using his words. Adam Olsen is a member of Tsartlip First Nation. He spoke these words yesterday in the British Columbia legislature:
We know that if these children were not indigenous but rather European that we would not have been slow to act…. Deep down, we know that in our society it’s just a fact…. Some children matter less.

We know underneath the shiny, happy facade of Canada…there lurks a grotesque and shameful past. For 30 years, my relatives have been sharing their experiences from these despicable institutions. For 30 years, their stories have been hushed. Our relatives have been told that [Canada and] Canadians…don’t want to hear their stories. They have been told to stop lying. They’ve been told to stop embellishing.

There was a statement from this institution that noted the unimaginable proportions of this tragedy. This is an incredibly unfortunate characterization of the situation that we carry. For Indigenous People, the story is not shocking, nor is it unimaginable. This is the trauma our families have carried for generations….

As we continue to grapple with missing and murdered indigenous women and children, hanging red dresses in recognition of our current reality, what is uncovered in Kamloops [reminds us] that this storyline is not new. It has been in the imagination—indeed in the nightmares—of our relatives for the past 130 years. It is the terror that our ancestors have lived with.

The only reason to call it unimaginable would be because these institutions, these Crown governments…and the people that populated these chambers in the past either haven’t been listening to our stories or they’ve cared less. It is a reality in our country that some children have mattered less. These are both terrible considerations.

There is nothing to imagine for those who have been paying attention. Our Elders and our families have been sharing the grim details of their experiences in residential schools for decades. That is the record of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

You don’t have to imagine it. You just have to believe it and care enough to act with the urgency that you would if it was your child that didn’t return home from school. It’s your kids going to school, not coming home, not being there when their parents are there to pick them up….

Duncan Campbell Scott, deputy superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, is often associated with saying, “Kill the Indian, save the man”….
Residential schools were a critical tool in the process of “kill the Indian,” in Scott’s words. Deliberately breaking up families by forcing children to residential schools was a tool to expedite the process of dispossessing Indigenous Peoples of their lands and resources….

There have always been stories in our families of our relatives that didn’t come home, the children that died and were buried there with little or no notification to the families….

I wish I could say that indigenous children are no longer forcibly removed from their communities. However, I can’t. I wish I could say that indigenous people were not dramatically overrepresented in fatalities at the hands of police, the criminal justice system, homelessness, suicide, addictions and drug poisoning, all statistics you don’t want to be overrepresented in….

We must stop referring to what we know like we didn’t know it. We must stop pretending it was better than it was. We must stop acting like we came by this wealth through honest means because we did not. This land and the resources this Crown government depends on came from the dispossession of indigenous people. For decades, this provincial government [and I will insert federal] has benefited from the lands and resources that were secured through residential schools and other disgraceful policies.

I’m so grateful for the incredible public response to this tragedy facing our relatives in Kamloops and the Interior. I’m grateful for the demands from our family and friends and neighbours…ensuring government responds as if it were our child that didn’t come home from school.

This is indeed a heavy burden, but it’s one we can all make lighter if we carry it together. HÍSW_?E SIÁM.