May 31, 2021

Confirmation of children’s remains at residential school site an unthinkable loss

O'Brien Institute for Public Health statement
Residential school statement

Late last week we learned that the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation ​found the remains of 215 children, with some as young as three-years-old, on the site of what used to be Canada’s largest residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia

This confirmation of the loss experienced by Indigenous families is a stark reminder of colonial violence, including that experienced by Indigenous children through the Indian Residential School system, and refocuses us as public health researchers on the ongoing, contemporary impact of colonialism on Indigenous people in Canada.

For generations Indigenous families and communities have known about and experienced these losses, and we acknowledge the renewed pain and suffering that the discovery has caused.

The O’Brien Institute for Public Health echoes the sentiment from Michael Hart, UCalgary Vice-Provost (Indigenous Engagement), and Elder-in-Residence Reg Crowshoe that we must never forget the children lost, and take and create opportunities to enact transformation within ourselves individually, our units, and our institution.

Let us take this opportunity to listen, learn and act. 

Dr. Pamela Roach, director, Indigenous Health Education within the Indigenous, Local and Global Health Office, Cumming School of Medicine, has compiled the following list of resources and organizations to learn from and engage with:

Cumming School of Medicine Indigenous Health Dialogue

Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

  • Learn about the residential schools that operated where you live, or grew up. 

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

  • Information on colonization and genocide as a root cause of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada Joint Commitment to Action on Indigenous Health

  • Learn more about the role of medical education on Indigenous Health.

In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care

  • Learn more about how anti-Indigenous racism persists today.

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation

  • Learn more about community-based Indigenous-directed healing initiatives.


Dr. Tom Stelfox, MD, PhD, O'Brien Institute Scientific Director
Dr. Christine Friedenreich, PhD, O'Brien Institute Associate Scientific Director
Dr. Jamie Day, PhD, O'Brien Institute Administrative Director
Dr. Aliya Kassam, PhD, Lead, O'Brien Institute Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Portfolio

  • Photo above: Vancouver memorial for 215 children whose remains were discovered at a Kamloops residential school. Photo by GoToVan published on Flickr under Creative Commons Licence

The following resources are available for anyone struggling:

The First Nations Health Authority operates a 24-hour National Indian Residential School Crisis Line to provide support for former students and those affected. Emotional and crisis referral services are available in English and French by calling 1-866-925-4419.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society can be contacted by calling 1-800-721-0066.

Supports are also available to members of the university community through University of Calgary Student Wellness Services and Staff Wellness.