Statement by University of Ottawa President Jacques Frémont concerning the Kamloops Residential School burial site

Posted on Thursday, June 3, 2021

Close-up of a pair of baby shoes placed on the Indigenous sculpture on Tabaret lawn.

The heinous news of these past days – that the remains of 215 Indigenous children have been discovered at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation – has had a profound impact on all First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and the broader Canadian society.

On behalf of the University of Ottawa I wish to acknowledge the great sorrow occasioned by this horrifying discovery, and to offer my deepest condolences in particular to uOttawa’s Indigenous students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The Indigenous sculpture on Tabaret lawn surrounded by several pairs of shoes.

The death of so many innocent children in such cruel circumstances is unspeakably shocking. Yet for the survivors of the Indian Residential School System and their descendants, the trauma inflicted remains all too familiar, and its legacy and pain all too real today.

In its 2015 summary report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools where abuse and mistreatment were rampant. The removal of children was a sustained attack on Indigenous families, communities, and cultural traditions. Tragically, many thousands of these children died in these schools and were buried in unmarked graves—families were often not notified until much later that their children had died and would not be returning home, if they were notified at all. As shocking as this recent discovery has been, it is in all likelihood only one among many such sites across the country.

Several pairs of shoes placed around the Indigenous sculpture on Tabaret lawn.

It is time for all Canadians to confront this horrific history with compassion and humility. For without a clear and shared understanding of our past, we will never achieve justice for Indigenous peoples in Canada and we will collectively struggle to find a way forward.

I am cognizant of our University’s religious history and acknowledge that we have no choice but to face the past head on. But not today. Today, on behalf of the entire uOttawa community, I offer my sincerest sympathy to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and the other communities whose children attended the Kamloops Residential School for the unimaginable losses they have endured. We stand in solidarity with all who seek justice for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Jacques Frémont,
President and Vice-Chancellor

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