SPE Statement on the Kamloops Residential School

Published: June 22, 2021

by Saina Beitari*, Jessica Bou Nassar*, Momoko Ueda*, Shawn McGuirk on behalf of Science & Policy Exchange (SPE) *All authors contributed equally

On May 28, 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation uncovered a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, and many more mass grave sites are still expected to be found across Canada.⁠

As members of Science & Policy Exchange (SPE), we would like to offer our deepest condolences to the families of these children, affected communities, and survivors of residential schools. Under no circumstances should a child ever be forcibly taken away from their families, disallowed from practicing their own culture, or forbidden from speaking their mother tongue.

Accordingly, we echo Indigenous communities in calling for all levels of government in Canada to address the hurtful legacy of colonization and residential schools, by:

– Accelerating and completing a comprehensive national search for other residential school burial sites across the country

– Accomplishing all of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action

– Ending all boil water advisories in First Nations communities and ensuring that all Indigenous communities have access to clean drinking water

– Equitably funding education, cultural social supports, health care, and housing in Indigenous communities

– Accomplishing all of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people

As members of the next generation of researchers, we also recognize a need to reflect on the role of the Canadian scientific community in these actions and in working towards reconciliation. For example, recent reports have shed light on unethical practices like nutritional experiments that were performed on children in residential schools; there is a direct line between these experiments and Canada’s Food Guide. These actions have long-lasting and intergenerational effects, which must be acknowledged so that it may never be repeated. It is only by starting from a position of shared understanding that we can move forward, together, on the path towards reconciliation.

We also believe that there needs to be equitable access for Indigenous peoples to participate in the Canadian research ecosystem as well as in science policy. Open and inclusive dialogue between science, policy, and society is critical to developing and maintaining trust in research and in decision-making. However, Indigenous people are too often left out of the dialogue on issues that implicate them. Climate change is a particularly important example, as Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by its effects but are under-represented in both decision-making and reporting on the issue. Developing equitable, inclusive, and sustainable strategies to tackle such grand challenges requires meaningful collaboration and long term relationship-building between Indigenous communities, policymakers, and scientists.

This includes improving the involvement, representation, and leadership of Indigenous communities in science and research as a necessary part of the journey to reconciliation. Strategies like the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s National Inuit Strategy on Research and the Canada Research Coordinating Committee’s Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada provide meaningful principles for collaboration between Indigenous and Western knowledge systems, notably by (1) fostering the right to self-determination, (2) respecting Indigenous ways of knowing and supporting community-led research, and (3) ensuring appropriate spaces and tools for learning and dialogue.

Other best practices for non-Indigenous STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine) researchers and scientists include:

– Where appropriate, actively seek out the representation of Indigenous perspectives in your work and amplify the need to include them.

– Support Indigenous in STEMM organizations.

– Make sure to acknowledge and cite the contributions of Indigenous individuals, scholars, and communities.

– When working with Indigenous communities:

  • Seek knowledge exchange rather than extraction of knowledge.
  • Engage in intercultural training to learn more about the community.
  • Prioritize practices and tools that can ensure an effective exchange of knowledge. For example, language accommodations might be needed for effective communication.
  • Be transparent about how generated data will be used, interpreted, and analyzed, and maintain integrity.

Finally, we support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls for reform of educational curricula to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms. By appropriately valuing and incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing and improving the cultural awareness in the learning environment, from early to higher education, Indigenous students can be empowered to pursue higher education degrees and a career in science and research. This capacity building is important not only to ensure scientific professions are accessible, but also to address a growing demand for skilled workers in STEMM occupations where Indigenous peoples remain under-represented.

At SPE, we are committed to continuing learning from and amplifying the voices of Indigenous peoples in science policy. We acknowledge and recognize the barriers that they and other historically excluded groups in STEMM face, and our role in being proactive to remove these barriers. We strive to support Indigenous students and researchers by actively working with the Indigenous STEMM community to collaboratively advocate for their inclusion in evidence-informed decision-making.

— As we wrote this statement, we also learned of the mass killing of four Muslim Canadians in London, Ontario. Our hearts go out to the family of the victims and the Muslim community. Racism takes many forms and even more lives. These events underscore the long, windy, but necessary path that we must take to live up to our ideals of solidarity and multiculturalism. As we shine a light upon the plight of the Indigenous community, we must not forget that of other marginalized members of our community.

Additional resources:

– Read The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action report and reflect on how you can participate in reconciliation.

– For advice on how to contact your MP representative, on the TRC Calls to Action or any other topic, visit VoteScience to learn how to engage with policymakers.

– Become educated on key issues facing Indigenous Peoples by registering in free Indigenous courses offered by the University of Alberta and Université Laval

– Contribute to local organizations that serve and support Indigenous peoples and Residential School Survivors, such as the following:

– Resources for community members who might need additional support: