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OKIB calls on federal, provincial governments to replace 'monuments of oppression'

FILE PHOTO: Okanagan Indian Band chief Byron Louis
Image Credit: Submitted
June 08, 2021 - 4:57 PM

The Okanagan Indian Band chief and council are calling on the federal and provincial governments to replace "monuments of oppression."

Infrastructure remains at Indigenous communities across the country, including the Okanagan band, due to a lack of capital funding to replace it, according to a news release from the band council.

The chief and council is pleading to the federal and provincial governments to work with Indigenous communities to "decolonize community infrastructure," which by remaining on their land will "serve as a constant reminder of the colonial genocide committed by Canada.

“We’re asking Justin Trudeau and John Horgan to... assist us in demolishing our day schools," Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band said in the release. "And to replace those buildings with centres that promote intergenerational healing and social cohesion, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

READ MORE: Should old residential schools stay in use? Local Indigenous leaders offer insight

The Okanagan band still uses the three former Indian day schools on their land.

The former Irish Creek day school is now the band office and the Six-Mile Creek Day School is an elders centre, now called New Horizons.

The second Six-Mile Creek Day School still operates as a school, but is now longer run by the Roman Catholic Church.

“Canadians of Japanese descent are not expected to travel to the New Denver Internment Camp to receive government services,” Chief Louis said, “Jewish descendants of the victims of the Holocaust aren’t expected to visit the internment and extermination camps to apply for a business loan. For Indigenous people, we’ve been left with these scars on our land in the form of unhealthy and traumatizing buildings.”

In an interview with iNFOnews.ca last week, Chief Louis said the findings at the former Kamloops Residential School reopened old wounds among the community.

“(The burial findings) triggered so many people again. They thought they’d dealt with it, but it's coming up again," he said.

READ MORE: Kamloops to Chase walking relay honours residential school survivors and children who didn't make it home

Louis said he can understand why the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc community made the conscious decision to keep the old school standing as a landmark and reminder, but reusing the infrastructure out of need and a lack of funding is a source of pain he wants to raze from the Okanagan Indian Band.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Okanagan band council acknowledge that the day schools were built in the early 1950s with Okanagan Indian Band resources - a choice made by the council of the day.

They avoided sending their children to either Kamloops or Cranbrook residential schools, but the Okanagan day schools were still operated by the Catholic Church and students were still subjected to much of the same trauma as residential schools, according to the letter.

READ MORE: Most Canadians say church to blame for residential-school tragedies

"As the duly elected Chief and Council, we are responsible for the health and wellbeing for all of our band members and not all members feel safe or comfortable in these buildings," the letter reads.

The band council would like to have the infrastructure replaced "with spaces that foster healing and the mental wellbeing of our community."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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