A statement from our CEO on the discovery of a mass grave of 215 Indigenous children

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It has been an emotional few days as we process the discovery of a mass grave at a residential school in Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation, where the bodies of 215 children were found. Like so many of you, I’m horrified and heartbroken by this news, though not surprised.

First, I can’t speak further about Canada’s genocide of Indigenous peoples without acknowledging YWCA’s colonial roots, and our complicity in the same systems that allowed residential schools to remove Indigenous children from their homes.

Mohawk institute 1932

We are committed to learning more about this history, and to educating ourselves and our communities about our own role in it. To prioritize this effort, we are actively seeking funding with YWCA Canada to enable historical researchers to study our YWCA Hamilton archives in order to understand the extent of our legacy in the community – both our good work and our mistakes. This process is ongoing, but we will share more information with you when we can.

As an organization, we are committed to reconciliation with all Indigenous communities. As part of that work, we are supporting a project led by Dawn and Roberta Hill, both of whom are survivors of the Mohawk Institute residential school in Brantford otherwise known as The Mush Hole.

Dawn and Roberta have been advocating for the creation of a park on the land of the former Mohawk Institute, and we have committed to supporting them in this work. You can read more about Dawn and Roberta’s experiences at the Mohawk Institute, and their plans for the Mohawk Village Memorial Park, in this Brantford Expositor article. We are so grateful to Dawn and Roberta for sharing their experiences, and for their continued work to create a place of acknowledgement and healing for residential school survivors.

It seems somewhat fitting that we should be facing this reckoning of our country’s shameful past this week, as June 1st marks the first day of Indigenous History Month across Canada.  This month will be an opportunity to reflect on the rich and diverse cultures, voices, experiences and histories of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people – but it also offers us a moment to reflect on Canada’s despicable legacy of racism and genocide against Indigenous peoples, one that is ongoing.

Kamloops Residential School Memorial, May 30th 2021
Kamloops Residential School Memorial, May 30th 2021

We need only look at the number of Indigenous women and girls who continue to go missing and are found murdered every day to know that we still have so much work to do. We need only look at the number of Indigenous communities that still don’t have clean, running water, proper access to health and social services to understand the sheer depth of the systemic racism that continues to perpetuate the cycles of poverty.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has said that the work of reconciliation requires the participation of non-Aboriginal Canadians – and YWCA Hamilton remains deeply committed to this process through advocacy, education and action.

Until next time, stay safe.

Denise Christopherson
CEO, YWCA Hamilton

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