Regional Chair Jim Bradley and Niagara’s 12 mayors offered the following joint statement:
On behalf of the people of Niagara, we have asked that flags be lowered at municipal facilities across the region in honour of the 215 children who were recently found in a mass grave at a former residential school in Kamloops. The flags will remain at half-mast for one hour for each of the lives that were taken.
Starting Monday, May 31, flags will be flown at half-mast until June 8.
The discovery of this mass grave is a stark reminder of the devastating legacy that the Canadian residential school system continues to have on Indigenous people across our country. As Canadians, we must never forget that residential schools forcefully removed Indigenous children from their families, robbed them of their culture, and exposed many of them to physical, mental and sexual abuse.
This particular residential school was operational until 1969, and in the mass unmarked grave, bodies belonging to children as young as three were discovered. Leaders in the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nations community have rightfully pointed out that the individuals found in this mass grave would have been elders in their community by now. The discovery of this grave site represents more than just a loss of life; it is also an unmeasurable loss of culture, tradition, customs and society.
As Niagara’s municipal leaders, we recognize that reconciliation starts with a sincere acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Indigenous people in Canada. While this discovery is exceptionally tragic, we must also recognize it as an opportunity to learn the truth about the horrors of the residential school system, and the lasting intergenerational trauma it has had for Indigenous people across Canada.
While the flag lowering is symbolic, we are also committed to action. We continue to finds ways to work more closely with local Indigenous leaders to address specific items of concern to those living in Niagara. We strive to foster productive relationships based on trust and respect.
We are also joining many communities and organizations across the country who are calling on the federal government to declare a national day of mourning to recognize the tragedies of residential schools in Canada. While nothing will erase the painful impact that residential schools had on First Nations, Inuit and Metis people, we believe we must better acknowledge, and learn from, one of the darkest chapters of our history.
For those looking for support, the Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available for former residential school students and others by calling 1-866-925-4419.