By Lisa Gervais
When Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale first heard that the remains of 215 children, some as young as three, had been found buried outside a residential school in Kamloops, BC, he reacted as a father.
“It makes you sick,” he said in a June 4 interview.
As the Shadow Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations, Schmale added, “It’s something that has profoundly lasting and damaging impact on Indigenous culture, heritage and language. The legacy of residential schools is a shame.”
In a wide-sweeping interview, Schmale said the fact the last residential school was closed in 1996 means it is not something that happened in a faraway time. “The effects are still having ramifications on the survivors today, on the people that are very much around today.”
Schmale said he has been the lead on the file for the Official Opposition Conservatives. He has been working closely with leader Erin O’Toole and his office, committees, and speaking with Indigenous People, “reaching out and talking with them and trying to develop a fast forward.”
It began with work June 1 and is continuing.
He stressed that the Conservatives “felt this wasn’t an opportunity to politicize something,” but rather making “helpful suggestions. Not placing blame or anything like that because we know the failures are on governments of all stripes going right back,” Schmale said.
His party has asked for the government to develop a plan for Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) calls for actions 71-76, dealing with missing children and burial information by July 1. They also want funding for investigations at all former residential schools in Canada where unmarked graves may exist. Thirdly, ensuring the proper resources are allocated to communities to commemorate and honour the individuals discovered through the investigations and an education plan for Canadians of all ages to understand what happened.
He said any plan going forward must be Indigenous-led, with Ottawa providing assistance.
“Some believe they are gravesites, some crime scenes. Both are true. Some are saying leave it, some are saying let’s get closure … it has to be Indigenous-led, not Ottawa-led.”
The local MP said he is having emotional talks with Indigenous Peoples following the gruesome discovery.
He said a lot were not surprised by the finding but were by the number. He said many tell stories of classmates having gone missing and never coming back.
“Most of it is listening, trying to understand the pain they were and have been feeling.”
He thinks this is just the beginning.
Schmale said his party plans to vote in favour of NDP Charlie Angus’ motion on the issue, with a vote expected the week of June 7.
As of June 3, they are calling on the Liberals to: end their legal battle against the First Nation children and accept the findings of the Human Rights Tribunal; end their legal battle against the St. Anne’s survivors; push for the adoption of the TRC calls to action, particularly 71-76; provide survivors and their families the support for dealing with the trauma; and table within 10 days the steps they have taken to end their legal battles.
Schmale said, “We need to deal with this. We need to take action. We know what needs to be done. We need to listen to what the people on the ground are telling us and how we should proceed and then do it.”
The local MP said it’s clear governments have failed for centuries and this is “an opportunity to perhaps think differently on the situation. The status quo is not working so how do we proceed with reconciliation in a more meaningful way? And that includes financial and economic reconciliation too.”
For example, he said there remains equality issues. Some Indigenous police services do not have the same powers and resources as other police forces in the same province. He said the officers know the communities, people, families, and how to deal with situations differently, but don’t have the same powers to deal with those situations and that must change.
He said many First Nations people don’t have the ability to acquire property, sell land, have self-governance and the resources to do that.
Referencing years-long boil water advisories, Schmale said in “today’s day and age, how the heck is this still happening?” In some cases, he said it is because a local has not been trained to service a water treatment plant.
“No matter where you were in Canada, when news of what happened in Kamloops came out, I think it affected everyone, Indigenous, non-Indigenous, it didn’t matter. When you hear about a mass gravesite of 215 children, some as young as three, I think a whole country mourns.”