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FIFSW statement on the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children in Kamloops, B.C.

The heartbreaking discovery of the remains of 215 children in an unmarked burial at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, has left us reeling. As Canada commemorates National Indigenous Heritage Month in June, this mass grave — in addition to the many graveyards of residential school children that have been previously found — adds to the evidence of the horrors that Canada’s residential schools and colonization have inflicted on Indigenous communities across Turtle Island.

We join University of Toronto President Meric Gertler in acknowledging the dignity of these children and their families — as well as the immense impact that this news is having on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, other Indigenous communities, and all survivors of Canada’s Indian Residential School System.

As a social work profession, we have championed human rights and social justice. However, social work has also played a direct role in supporting Canada’s residential school system — and there is much we must do as we work towards truth and reconciliation. We must acknowledge how social workers helped perpetuate the system of removing children from their homes through the residential school system as well as through colonially motivated adoption efforts known as the Sixties Scoop, which saw Indigenous children taken from their families and communities and forcibly assimilated into the white dominant culture.

We must continue to confront how the social work profession has played an active role in the historical and generational trauma that afflicts Indigenous communities. The ongoing tragedy of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) is an egregious example of cultural genocide in contemporary times that needs to be addressed immediately by our profession. In addition, key findings from an analysis of the 2018 Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect — conducted by the Association of Native Child and Family Services Agencies of Ontario (ANCFSAO), FIFSW researchers, and others — show that Indigenous children continue to be overrepresented in child welfare investigations at a rate that has remained consistent since 1998. In 2018, investigations involving First Nations children were:

  • six times more likely to be transferred to ongoing services after an investigation,
  • three times more likely to involve child welfare court,
  • six times more likely to result in an informal placement, and
  • seven times more likely to result in a formal child welfare placement.

In addition to acknowledging these truths, we are committed to continuing the hard work of reconciliation — working for and with communities as well as Indigenous students, faculty, and alumni to foster crucial change. FIFSW’s Master of Social Work, Indigenous Trauma and Resiliency Field of Study, created in partnership with the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres and the Middelton-Moz Institute, is dedicated to developing capacity in Indigenous communities by preparing advanced social work professionals to work with individuals and communities who have been affected by historical and generational trauma through evidence-based practice combined with healing and ceremony drawn from global Indigenous traditions.

We join our colleagues across the University of Toronto in working to implement the Calls to Action outlined in Wecheehetowin: Answering the Call, the Report of U of T’s Steering Committee in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. And we call on the Canadian government to implement the 94 recommendations outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report, published in 2015.

We also urge the Federal government to implement the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) ruling, which ordered Canada to compensate First Nations children and their families who were victims of inequitable and discriminatory practices in the delivery of child and family services.  The government has applied to overturn this ruling, and the court will hear Ottawa’s appeals June 14 – 18, 2021. (For more on the tribunal ruling, visit the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society website.)

Acknowledging, addressing, and working to eradicate inequality, celebrate diversity, and promote inclusion and belonging is central to our mission at FIFSW and vital tenets of the social work field. It is a mission that we must all collectively move closer towards manifesting. We must remain focused on the ongoing work of recognizing and addressing white supremacy, colonization, and all forms of racism embedded in our systems and ways of thinking.


Resources

Mental health support
For those who in need to support at this time, the University has services available for students, staff, and faculty through Indigenous student services, My SSP, U of T’s Mental Health Portal , or the Employee and Family Assistance Program. Further support is available through the 24-hour National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-800-925-4419).

Learn more and get involved
For those looking for additional ways to support Indigenous children and their families, we encourage you to visit the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society website to learn “7 Free Ways to Make a Difference.”

On June 11, join the Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition for for a talk about the ongoing Case on Jordan’s Principle and First Nations child welfare, and the upcoming federal court hearings.

This event is a partnership between the Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition and The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. Event Toolkit


The following faculty contributed to writing and reviewing this statement on behalf of FIFSW: Ramona Alaggian, Barbara Fallon, Bryn King, Jane Middelton-Moz, Ashley Quinn, Izumi Sakamoto, and Dexter Voisin.