Harrison Hot Springs Elementary officials have apologized and postponed a music video project for Canada Day as the Indigenous community mourns the recent findings of a mass grave at a former residential school site in Kamloops.
The since-deleted post, made by the school on June 1, said the “O Canada” music video would be shot this week, ahead of the village’s virtual Canada Day celebration. Students were asked to bring and change into red or white shirts.
Fraser Cascade district students and staff are wearing orange throughout the week to honour the children’s memory, but HHSES officials said the timing of the event was inappropriate and it has been canceled until further notice.
“Asking students to wear a red shirt to perform the song was disrespectful to our Indigenous community, who are currently mourning the loss of the 215 lost children who were recently discovered at the Kamloops Residential School,” the apology reads.
“We will continue to move forward in our support of our Indigenous community and the principles of truth and reconciliation and sincerely apologize that the event was planned on this day.”
According to Fraser-Cascade superintendent Balan Moorthy, the timing of shooting the music video was coincidental as June 1 happened to be the pre-arranged day a professional videographer was booked. Moorthy confirmed that school administrators felt wearing orange during the music video would have been inappropriate under the circumstances, which is what prompted the post about red and white clothing. The timing and optics of the post drew negative attention and anger – mostly beyond the local community – and administrators took the post down, replacing it with an apology.
Moorthy said it’s not yet confirmed whether or not the music video will be shot at a later date. Each school has followed their own paths as far as honouring the 215 children, including moments of silence, singing Indigenous songs as flags are lowered to half-mast and cut-out notes shaped like orange shirts with messages of love.
Moorthy, who is studying to complete his PhD, is working with a talking circle with members of area Indigenous communities and an ally on the broader goal of integrating Indigenous principles of learning in a largely Euro-centric education system.
“The question for me is ‘what are the next steps in truth and reconciliation as educators?’” Moorthy added.
About 40 per cent of students in the Fraser-Cascade School District are Indigenous, and Moorthy said even though COVID-19 has made deep, in-person connections much more difficult, the staff of Indigenous support workers throughout the district have been on hand and on high alert to support students amid the trauma triggered by the events in Kamloops.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed the discovery of the mass grave on May 27. The Kamloops residential school operated between 1890 and 1969, where as many as 500 children were enrolled at one time.
The federal government took over the Kamloops school from the Catholic church and ran it as a day school until its closure in 1978. There are records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1915 and 1963.
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is offering toll-free 24-hour telephone support for survivors and their families at 1 (866) 925-4419. Alternately, you can reach out the KUU-US Crisis Line Society 24-hour line at 1-800-588-8717.