June 14, 2021
The Department of Politics at York University in Toronto expresses its deepest condolences to Indigenous Peoples on the loss of their children at residential schools in Canada. And our heavy hearts are with the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, who announced, on May 27th, 2021, the discovery of an unmarked gravesite on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was run by the Roman Catholic Church. The remains of 215 children were found. Many, if not most, of these children died without their deaths being documented.
Over more than 150 years of its existence, until the last one closed in 1996, the residential school system removed Indigenous children, often forcibly, from their families and communities. It was a central pillar of the Canadian state’s policy to dispossess Indigenous Peoples from their ways of living and being, language and culture, forms of knowledge and their lands. Major churches contributed to the sanctioning and running of the residential school system. Prominent among them was the Roman Catholic Church, which to this day refuses accountability by disallowing the opening of its school archives and never apologizing for its role in this genocidal system.
Residential schools were rife with abuse and abject violence. Members of the highest levels of public office, all the way to the office of the Prime Minister of Canada, were aware of this violence. They willfully failed to stop it, and often overtly condoned it. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) acknowledged what Indigenous Peoples have long known: that many thousands of children perished, their families and communities were left without answers, and their children’s remains never returned to them. The Government of Canada has thus far failed to substantively follow up on the TRC recommendations, including Nos. 71 to 76 of the TRC’s Calls to Action, which specifically address “missing children and burial information,” as elaborated upon in Volume Four of the TRC’s Final Report entitled Canada's Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials.
Indigenous Peoples have always resisted this state-sanctioned violence and fought back.
The Department of Politics joins the worldwide demand for justice sparked by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation’s finding of their children’s burial ground.
We also accept the responsibility that comes with the understanding that the Department is not an innocent bystander to this and other genocidal
atrocities against Indigenous Peoples.
Universities in Canada and abroad contributed to the ideological justification for the residential school system. They trained many who oversaw the
creation and maintenance of the residential schools, even extending honours to some. Universities in Canada, built on stolen land, continue to be shaped by ongoing silences in university curricula, specifically concerning Indigenous histories, knowledge, and experiences, while there remain systemic and long-standing exclusions of Indigenous scholars from the academy writ large.
The Department of Politics recognizes it has a role to play in collectively confronting and addressing these wrongs. We, therefore, would like to begin by offering our sincerest apologies to our former and current Indigenous students, colleagues and all Indigenous Peoples for our Department’s failure and our discipline's failure to ensure that all students and faculty know about residential schools and genocide in Canada.
Second, we express our support for York University’s Indigenous Framework and acknowledge our need to learn. We commit ourselves to develop curricula that ensure silenced and denied truths become, instead, integral parts of our program offerings. We will engage with and encourage research that is relevant to Indigenous communities. We will pay close attention to our student and faculty recruitment and retention practices. And we will support all efforts to ensure sustained hiring of Indigenous faculty.
Third, we will dedicate resources to understand racial trauma and its impact and to create teaching and learning environments that support healing and reconciliation. To support these objectives, we will work together to build our library, create bibliographic resources, plan sponsored talks and training opportunities (such as reading groups, roundtables, and workshops), and review and update our core course syllabi.
We will listen, learn and act to build a new kind of university and better world that aligns with Indigenous Peoples' aspirations and honours the memories of their lost children.