Today, the Chief and Council of the Williams Lake First Nation released preliminary results of their investigation into unmarked graves at the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School. The residential school operated from 1886 until 1981 and forced thousands of children from the Williams Lake First Nation, and the Dãkelh, Tŝilhqot'in and neighbouring First Nations communities to attend.
This is a painful day that once again brings to the forefront the horror of Indigenous-specific racism in British Columbia, and the trauma inflicted on thousands of innocent children who were forever separated from their families, culture and way of life.
We are reminded frequently that Indigenous-specific racism is an every day issue that requires every day attention. This is why we must openly acknowledge the St. Joseph’s findings and accept the truth that what happened at this residential school is not a moment in time, nor is it something in ‘the past’ that can be forgotten. Rather, it is part of our history. A history that settlers have a responsibility to understand and educate ourselves about, because it continues to profoundly influence the existence of systemic, Indigenous-specific racism today.
Within health-care, this has significant consequences for the patients and clients PHSA serves, as well as our staff and medical staff. The continued presence of racism influences the willingness of Indigenous patients and families to seek care, their feelings of safety during health-care interactions, and the quality of their care outcomes. It also influences decisions of whether or not Indigenous People will pursue a career in health-care, and further shapes the experience of our Indigenous colleagues who seek to provide culturally safe care in a system built on colonial practices.
To the generations of Indigenous People mourning today, we offer our profound sympathy, but also share our commitment to being an organization that accepts the responsibility to do better, and with that, to take meaningful actions in support of Truth and Reconciliation. These actions must be undertaken by all of us; they start by knowing the past and then committing each day to being ‘good medicine’ going forward.
We have both the obligation and the opportunity to undertake a learning journey around the settler colonial history of the lands upon which we live. What we take in will enhance our knowledge, understanding and acceptance, making us better allies to Indigenous Peoples in our work and in society.