The discovery of unmarked graves with the remains of 215 children on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School has rippled across the country since the Tk'emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops released a statement about the findings on May 27.
Since then, many in the Edmonton region have expressed solidarity, grief, and called for more attention to the past and ongoing harms of the residential school system.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), there were 25 residential schools in Alberta, two of which were located in what is now known as the Edmonton metropolitan region.
Here is what municipal leaders and residents in the region had to say:
- Most of the region's municipalities announced they would be flying flags on government buildings at half-mast for 215 hours.
- "These children were taken away from their families, subjected to horrible conditions, unacceptable treatment and were never able to return home," said Stony Plain Mayor William Choy in a public statement.
- Parkland County offered solidarity and condolences to the Tk'emlups te Secwépemc community, and to the nearby Enoch Cree First Nation and Paul First Nation. "(They) are our trusted and respected neighbours, business partners, and friends," read a press release.
- Beaumont Mayor John Stewart asked residents to consider the lasting harms of the system. "It can be tempting to view residential schools as a long-gone chapter of our past," he said in a public statement. "The real history, both officially documented and spoken, is much more recent and includes government policy and actions."
- St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron acknowledged the victims and survivors of the two residential schools that were located in St. Albert: The Youville Indian Residential School and the Edmonton (formerly Red Deer) Industrial School. Heron also announced plans for a march from St. Albert's city hall to the Healing Garden, once provincial health guidelines allow it. The Healing Garden was built in 2017 as a therapeutic sanctuary for residential school survivors, and to raise awareness among other members of the community.
- Fort Saskatchewan resident Andre Pretty spoke to Fort Sask Online about his experience connecting with survivors of the Kamloops Residential School and their descendants while working as a firefighter in the area. "They all knew about those bodies for years, and they weren't allowed to dig them up until now," Pretty said.
The Edmonton Indian Residential School closed in 1967, and the property later became the home of Poundmaker's Lodge. (Courtesy of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre)
- There were calls to rename landmarks across the region named after Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin, who helped create the residential school system and supported its function of assimilating Indigenous children.
- Mayor Stewart acknowledged the presence of Grandin in Beaumont. "The name of Bishop Vital Grandin ... is reflected in our neighbourhoods and historical buildings," he said in a public statement. "This will lead to uncomfortable conversations, but they are long overdue and we should approach them with open hearts and minds."
- A 2020 petition to remove an Edmonton mural celebrating Grandin received renewed attention and had just over 9,000 of its 10,000-signature goal as of June 1.
- Grandin is also the namesake of a neighbourhood and high school in St. Albert, and an LRT station and elementary school in Edmonton. Edmonton councillor Aaron Paquette tweeted that a round table discussion on the subject of renaming these areas is underway.
Another result of the findings in Kamloops was renewed calls to investigate other residential school sites across the province.
"There's probably many more unmarked burial locations throughout Alberta," Kisha Supernant, director of the University of Alberta's Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology, told CTV News on May 31.
Though the former Edmonton Industrial School in St. Albert has a marked cemetery, there are also accounts of unmarked graves, for both attendees of the school and Indigenous patients of Edmonton's segregated Charles Camsell Hospital, elsewhere on the property. George Muldoe, a survivor of the school, said he was ordered to dig graves outside of the designated cemetery while attending the school between 1952 and 1962.
St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said she would support an investigation into the former Edmonton Industrial School site, and was glad to see announcements from the provincial and federal governments to help with researching unmarked graves.
"The knowledge that many children did not return home is not new and it is up to all of us to do the work, whether it be through advocacy or action," she told Taproot in an emailed statement.
"St. Albert was the home of two residential schools and it is horribly sad to question whether the remains of some of these lost children could be close by and undiscovered."
UPDATE: An earlier version of this story implied that Leduc County did not lower its flags. While it did not announce its plans, its flags were at half-mast on Monday and will stay lowered for 215 hours. A quote from Stony Plain Mayor William Choy has also been updated.