Imaging British Columbia: Kamloops Indian Residential School

John Craig Freeman in collaboration with Don Seymour, Evelyn Camille and Loretta Seymour

Funding support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Small Cities Community-University Research Alliance and Emerson College

In the spring of 2006, after the “Imaging Britsh Columbia: Weyerhaeuser” project, Will Garrett-Petts invited me back to Kamloops to deliver a public lecture, conduct a workshop sessions with CURA researchers and to further develop the “Imaging British Columbia” project as a pilot project for CURA.

During this stay in Kamloops, I worked with the local Secwepemc (Shuswap) people to produce a new phase of the “Imaging British Columbia” project that focuses on the stories of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The school was created in 1893 by the Canadian government in cooperation with Roman and Protestant churches to “Christianize and civilizes” the Secwepemc.

The school building, which stands today, was built in 1923 and operated as the Kamloops Indian Residential School until 1978. For most of its existence, little education took place at the school. Instead, the school was used to colonize and assimilate the Secwepemc. Students were taught menial farming and homemaking skills, but most of their time was spent maintaining the school itself. Canadian law mandated attendance at the school and parents could be sent to prison if they refused.

Over four generation of Secwepemc children were taken from their parents and forced to attend the School. These children were isolated from their traditional culture and indoctrinated in Catholic religious teachings. Although many of the children did not speak English, they were forbidden to speak Secwpemctsin and were severely punished when they did. The individuals I worked with referred to this practice as strapping, where the children would be hit across the forearms, or elsewhere, with large leather straps. The irony was, that the children themselves were forced to make the straps. The legacy of the Kamloops Indian Residential School has been devastating for the Secwepemc. Shame of the Secwepemc culture and language was deeply instilled in the children. The effects include all manner of personal, social, cultural, and spiritual dysfunction. The Secwpemctsin language was nearly lost.

In “Imaging British Columbia: Kamloops Indian Residential School”, users can navigate through this imposing building where they will encounter several generations of former students recounting their experiences at the school.

Since 1978 the Kamloops Indian Band has run the facility, which now houses a variety of Band organization. The word Kamloops is the English translation of the Secwepemc word Tk’emlups, meaning ‘confluence,’ and for centuries has been a center of the Secwepemc culture. Bands of first nations people from across British Columbia are once again turning to the Secwepemc for leadership. They conduct a well-established project to preserve and restore the Secwpemctsin language and the school they run is one of the best in the state.

At one time the Secwepemc people occupied one large traditional territory covering approximately 145,000 square kilometers. The Kamloops Reserve land base was established in 1862 under the direction of then Governor James Douglas. It included an area approximately 26 miles east of the North Thompson River by 26 miles north of the South Thompson River, adjacent to the City of Kamloops. Although the Secwepemc never signed away their rights to this land, in subsequent years the reserve was reduced in size to around 7 by 7 miles today. In 1988 the Kamloops Indian Band filed a claim to the original Douglas Reserve. In 2001 the Canadian Government rejected the claim. The Kamloops Indian Band is currently preparing to file a new claim under the Douglas Reserve Initiative at Residential School.

Future work on “Imaging British Columbia: Kamloops Indian Residential School” will attempt to map the stories of the Secwepemc people onto Douglas land claim.

Also see “Imaging Britsh Columbia: Weyerhaeuser.”

One Response to Imaging British Columbia: Kamloops Indian Residential School

  1. Thank you. It hurts to see and hear this and it’s necessary so thank you very much.

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