'Arrest and disrupt' ideologies of settler supremacy, says B.C.'s top doctor of residential school discovery

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says she and other settlers must not get stuck in shame, but take action towards decolonization and reconciliation.

In a news conference on Monday, a tearful Henry paused to mourn and acknowledge the children whose bodies were recently found in a mass grave near the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

“There are no words that can do justice to those children and the countless others who died alone and scared, far from home, far from the families who loved them,” she said.

“There are no words that can make right a deliberate and intentional system that was designed to assimilate and extinguish Indigenous peoples."

Last week the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced that bodies of 215 children had been discovered buried near a former Kamloops school, which operated as a residential school from 1890 to 1969. The presence of the mass grave site was confirmed through the help of special ground-penetrating radar.

In response, Henry said she will be taking action.

“Today I don't offer words, but rather my renewed commitment to actions that arrest and disrupt our deeply rooted ideologies of settler supremacy,” she said.

“We must make no mistake, that while these deaths happened in the past, our systems, and laws, continue to perpetuate racism and discrimination that hurts, Indigenous peoples in countless ways.”

Henry said she will be meeting with her teams to discuss further steps and work to implement more of the calls to action and rights outlined in United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

She also referenced the important findings from an investigation into B.C.’s health-care system, In Plain Sight, released in 2020, that concluded the province’s healthcare is rife with anti-Indigenous racism.

The top doctor also wants other settlers to dig deep and consider how they can work towards decolonization.

“Each and every one of us needs to ask ourselves, what meaningful actions can we take to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples,” she said.

“We cannot get stuck in our shame, and grief, but rather commit to ourselves, to one another, and to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples that we will deliberately and intentionally take actions that will serve to heal, rather than harm."