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Zimmer: Mourning the 215 Innocent Lives Lost at Kamloops Residential School

The horrific discovery of the remains of 215 children found in unmarked burial sites at a former residential school in Kamloops has left us all shaken.

Canadians across the country are coming together to grieve and acknowledge the deep sorrow and mourning that all Indigenous peoples and survivors of residential schools are experiencing. I want to express my deepest sympathies and condolences to the Tk’emlúps te Secweìpemc nation and to the surrounding Indigenous communities who are sharing in this trauma. As a father of four, I cannot imagine the immense sense of loss that is being felt at this time.

To show my support, I wore an orange tie in the House of Commons on May 31 to honour these innocent children and also paid my respects at the growing memorial at the Centennial Flame outside the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. I was greatly honoured to be one of the hundreds who attended the vigil held in Fort St. John and I would like thank Connie Greyeyes for organizing the evening and express my sincere appreciation for allowing me the opportunity to speak.

While these symbolic gestures are important, I know that meaningful action is necessary to help with the healing process. That is why, I voted in favour of an NDP motion calling on the government to take concrete action to advance reconciliation. My Conservative colleagues and I have also put forward a list of meaningful actions that can assist families and Indigenous communities during this time. This includes:

  • Developing a comprehensive plan to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action 71 through 76, which are specific to missing children and burial information, by July 1, 2021;

  • Funding the investigation at all former residential schools in Canada where unmarked graves may exist, including the site where these 215 children have already been discovered;

  • Ensuring that proper resources are allocated for communities to reinter, commemorate, and honour any individuals discovered through the investigation, according to the wishes of their next of kin; and

  • Developing a detailed and thorough set of resources to educate Canadians of all ages on the tragic history of residential schools in Canada.

There is no doubt that the legacy of residential schools is a national shame that has had a profoundly lasting and damaging impact on Indigenous culture, heritage, and language. This discovery of 215 innocent children is a somber reminder that more work needs to be done to address the devastating and harmful effects that residential schools had, and still have, on many survivors today.

As my colleague, MP Gary Vidal said in the House of Commons during the emergency debate on residential schools:

“…the truth is not easy. It requires courage and vulnerability. For those of us who have been tasked with an opportunity for leadership, it will take some humility and a desire to change an approach that has not been good enough.” Let us all have the courage and humility to make that change and to take immediate action to honour the 215 children found and the children yet to be discovered. Every child matters. It’s long past time we do the work to show it.

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