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Ceremony planned for anniversary of Kamloops 215 discovery

May 23 marks one-year since discovery of mass graves at former residential school

From Kamloops This Week.

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc will hold a special day of ceremony on Monday, May 23, to recognize the first anniversary of the discovery of 215 probable graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

The day of ceremony will be held from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the band’s Powwow Arbour. Scheduled to appear is Governor General Mary Simon, who is expected to speak at about 9:30 a.m.

Tk’emlúps Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said everyone is welcome at the ceremony, which will recognize Tk’emlúps staff and members of government, along with “all of those who have stood by us.”

The memorial day will include several Secwépemc cultural performances, including pipe carriers, hand drumming and jingle dress dancing. Cultural and mental-health supports will also be made available.

“This is our cultural tradition and protocol after the year of sharing the loss and going through the emotions of grief,” Casimir said. “Now we’re going to be honouring the Le Estcwicwéy̓, the 215.”

Addressing what may come next, Casimir said the band is looking at a process of “exhumation to memorialization.”

“We know that when we start doing some of the archeological work, we know that it’s going to be about communication, respect, honour and dignity, but also about connecting anyone we may find to their home communities,” she said.

Casimir said there will be many steps to take in furthering the band’s work with the probable grave sites, adding there will be “a lot of ceremony” along the way.

“This is something that has not happened in the history here in Canada. There’s no set of guidelines, no checklists,” she said. “All we know is honour, protocols and moving forward, and making sure we bring in who we need to.”

Among those involved are specialists and technicians in archeology and ground-penetrating radar, government liaisons and various professors, Casimir said.

One year ago, news of the discovery of 215 probable graves spread within the Tk’emlúps community before the announcement was made the public, Casimir said.

“When I first shared the news, it was devastating for many of our community members. Some of them were home alone, some would receive a letter. What had happened was, apparently, from the findings on the 23rd, it leaked out,” she said.

Casimir said as a result, there were many reactive steps in the beginning for the band.

“We don’t want to make that mistake again. We want to make sure we keep others informed and follow through processes and steps that support and give honour to the communities that are impacted, as well.”

READ MORE: Remains of 215 children found at former B.C. residential school an ‘unthinkable loss’

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