Community members are raising concerns over a City of Parksville councillor’s “unacceptable” Facebook comment which appears to mock the recognition of Indigenous plants.
An account belonging to Councillor Adam Fras made the remark on May 17 in response to a CHEK News story about a local Indigenous plant. The story featured the lək̓ʷəŋən name for the plant that most English speakers know as camas.
In the article, a Songhees expert shares cultural knowledge about the nutritional benefits and history of kwetlal, as it is known in lək̓ʷəŋən. kwetlal blooms with purple flowers and has been farmed and harvested by Songhees people for thousands of years.
In the comment section under the Facebook post, one reader wrote: “Thank you, I’m looking forward to learning the Indigenous names for plants and trees. After all, these are Indigenous plants and trees.”
In response to this comment, Fras replied: “Indigenous plants and trees? They invented them or what?”
The comment upset Jessica Linford, who was scrolling through Facebook when she happened upon the story and his reply.
“For me, I wouldn’t want an elected official saying anything that could be construed as dismissive of a community that they might represent,” she told IndigiNews.
IndigiNews reached out by email and phone to Fras to ask him about the comment and about his response to community concerns but did not receive a response.
A screenshot of the comment made by Coun. Adam Fras.
Linford brought the comment to the attention of her friend Cindy Robinson, a local resident and member of the Kitasoo / Xai’xais First Nation.
Robinson said that the comment was especially upsetting because recognizing Indigenous knowledge has been highlighted as a priority in response to efforts such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“And those remarks are very harsh and unacceptable for someone in his type of leadership role,” she said, adding that all of these incidents build up to break trust.
“One little incident such as that it just kind of sets us back and you know, makes me kind of resistant to to want to proceed with helping or initiating ways of doing things together.”
Jessica Linford was upset by the Facebook comment made by Fras. Submitted photo
Linford, a non-Indigenous woman, was upset to see laughing icons on the post, so went to look at the comments. That’s where she saw that Fras had responded with a laughing emoji to the reader comment thanking CHEK News for the article. Linford recognized his name and confirmed that he is on Parksville city council.
Other members of the public who saw Fras’s comment also replied to it, with one remarking: “scary he is on council in PV.”
Councillor Fras’s comment has since been deleted, although the responses are still visible.
According to the provincial government website on the conduct of locally elected officials, “Responsible conduct is grounded in elected officials conducting themselves according to principles such as integrity, accountability, respect, and leadership and collaboration in a way that furthers a local government’s ability to provide good governance to their community.”
When contacted by IndigiNews, Parksville Mayor Doug O’Brien said, “I believe that the person that should be commenting on this posting would be Adam Fras. In all honesty, I do not follow Facebook, nor comment on posts that are brought to my attention.”
Fras is a second-term elected member of the Parksville city council and the city liaison to the Parksville and District Historical Society. According to their website, the objectives of the society are to gather and preserve information of educational, historical and cultural value associated with the area.
Fras, who began his second term as a Parksville city councillor in October of last year, is the city liaison to the Parksville and District Historical Society. In the post on Facebook announcing his decision to run again for a seat on city council, he wrote, “After years of learning the role and processes involved, I am ready to lean into my experience with the genuine, kind, and commited nature I am known for.”
For Linford, that kindness was not on display in his comment. “It feels, minimally, very inappropriate to react that way publicly.”
As for Robinson, she says Fras’s comment conflicts with his responsibilities as a city councillor. “You think about who he is and, I mean, it’s just unacceptable.”
The post ‘They invented them or what?’: Parksville councillor under fire for comment about Indigenous plants appeared first on IndigiNews.
Stó:lō confirms 158 children’s deaths at four institutions as investigation reveals rampant neglect, abuse
CONTENT WARNING: This story contains graphic details about residential “schools” that many will find distressing or triggering. Please look after your spirit and read with care.
After confirming the deaths of 158 Indigenous children at four government and church-run institutions in the “Fraser Valley,” researchers with Stó:lō Nation say they want to find the individuals who were responsible.
Following a two-year investigation, questions still remain about how many more children lost their lives while in forced custody — and about the adults responsible for their care — at the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School, Coqualeetza Industrial Institute, All Hallows School or Coqualeetza Indian Hospital.
However, the team from Stó:lō says both Oblates of Mary Immaculate and “Canada” have blocked access to records which could help their efforts to identify what actions, or inactions, led to children’s deaths and who perpetrated the horrific abuses detailed by survivors.
“What we learned from speaking with only a handful of survivors is devastatingly traumatic and sad,” said David Schaepe, an archaeologist for Stó:lō who is leading the research project, on Thursday.
“Who perpetrated these atrocities? This is one of our core questions and remains a focus of our ongoing work.”
Research lead David Schaepe, left, and Chief David Jimmie (Lenéx wí:ót) present their findings in community on Sept. 21. Photo by Cara McKenna
Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh
On Thursday afternoon, Schaepe, along with another researcher and two Stó:lō chiefs, sat under a large tent beside the former St. Mary’s Residential School.
Located on the Stó:lō village site of Pekw’Xe:yles, where missionaries descended after the community was decimated by smallpox, the red brick building now looms over the lush greenery of the land.
The former institution, now utilized as a preschool, was the longest-running residential “school” in the province and only closed its doors in 1984 after 121 total years of operation, having moved twice during that time.
It still holds many dark memories for survivors and unknowns for families of those who didn’t make it home.
The Stó:lō Nation Chiefs’ Council (SNCC) launched the Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh (Taking Care of Our Children) project in 2021 to try to find answers about the children who went missing from St. Mary’s and three other institutions that operated within their unceded territories.
The announcement this week represented the results of the first phase of their investigation and was delivered to survivors, their families, media and other guests.
Chief David Jimmie (Lenéx wí:ót), president of the SNCC, began by acknowledging the strength, resilience and perseverance of the survivors in attendance before handing the floor to the researchers who detailed the various aspects of their work.
“Our sharing of this work is necessary to support the healing of our survivors and our families to overcome the multi-generational traumas resulting from the residential school experience,” Jimmie said.
“We’re also sharing our knowledge for the education of our communities and society at large, who need to understand what our survivors have understood for so long.”
Jimmie explained that the research project was launched by SNCC after hearing the news about evidence of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS) and has involved various community partners.
The methodology of the work has included poring through thousands of records, utilizing ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and LiDAR scanning, genealogy research and recording oral histories from survivors.
“We know our children lost their lives, and these institutions were to blame,” Jimmie said.
“We are working to account for our people: who they are, where they died and where they were buried. But the foundation question is why did this happen, and that question we put back to the governments, the churches, and the non-Indigenous society at large to answer and to account for their actions.”
Cutouts of orange shirts are taped on the windows of the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School, now utilized as a preschool. Photo by Cara McKenna
Researchers share horrific details
While ground scans have been part of the research thus far, only a small fraction of the grounds — between two and four per cent — have actually been searched, and so the team is not relying on this method but rather utilizing it as a contribution to a wider scope of work.
Jimmie said the team has worked on identifying any places where children may have been put to rest, including marked burial sites and investigating potential unmarked burial sites.
“We can also confirm having identified numerous potential unmarked burials including secretive burials, at least at the St. Mary’s old school grounds,” he said.
“It is too premature in our work, and distracting to our efforts, to focus on the numbers of potential unmarked burials.”
Amber Kostuchenko, the project manager for Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh, outlined the number of children’s deaths that she said have been confirmed as part of the project.
“We’ve received about half of the 70,000 relevant documents that we need to answer our questions,” she said.
“These records came from 27 different archives that were located in 47 different physical locations across Canada. Of those 35,000 documents we’ve only reviewed a small portion to date. Even so, we’ve already received detailed information about children who died.”
Kostuchenko said Stó:lō’s research has so far concluded a total of 158 children’s deaths, with the majority from illnesses. Children were known to have gotten sick with, and died from, tuberculosis and other diseases at high rates in residential “schools” because of poor sanitary conditions, overcrowding, malnourishment and general neglect from the adults supervising them.
“We have carefully and rigorously analyzed the information we’ve gathered and we are confident in sharing numbers about the children who died while at these institutions,” Kostuchenko said.
At All Hallows School, she said, there were five deaths of girls who were reported to have died because of an illness. At the Coqualeetza residential “school,” the team has so far identified with certainty that 37 children died at, or because of their attendance — with 25 reported to have died from illness and three from injuries recorded as “accidents.” The remaining nine have unknown causes of death.
“One child died because they were jumped on by another student, another child was reported to have hit their head against the bed under unknown circumstances,” said Kostuchenko, who was visibly shaken and paused to take a sip of water. “Another was reported to have broken their spine while jumping rope.”
At St. Mary’s, the team confirmed 20 “students” who died, with the youngest child being seven years old and the oldest being 18. Most were reported to have died from illness, while the remaining three had unknown causes of death.
“Lastly, I want to talk about Coqualeetza Indian Hospital,” she said. “Through our work of historical documents, we’ve so far identified, with certainty, 96 children who died at the Coqualeetza Indian Hospital.”
Of that, 79 were reported to have died from tuberculosis while seven were reported to have passed from a different illness such as pneumonia or cardiac arrest during surgeries. The remaining 10 have unknown causes of death, she said.
Schaepe said survivors shared many atrocities of their experiences at the four institutions, and as he shared some of the testimony, people in the audience were visibly rattled, and some cried, including one woman who loudly sobbed upon hearing the upsetting details.
“We heard cases of children being killed, we heard of the secretive burial of children who died and the forced burial of children by other children,” Schaepe said.
“We learned of the secretive burial of babies. We were told that the St. Mary’s old school was characterized as a place of punishment and starvation, and the new school as a place of pedophilia.”
Children were exposed to disease, exploited for child labour and starved while they were institutionalized, and Schaepe’s voice shook as he spoke of children “having to choose between eating green, spoiled bologna or not eating at all.”
He then spoke of “rampant” sexual abuse that also took place at St. Mary’s — something that partially came to light in 2004 when former boys’ dormitory supervisor Gerald Moran was convicted of 12 counts of sexual abuse for offenses that took place about 40 years earlier.
“We heard of terrible implications that need further work to further understand,” Schaepe explained, “including a story of firemen responding to a fire at the old St. Mary’s girls’ dormitory and finding the remains of fetuses in the walls and, as is being told in experiences in other institutions, that furnaces were used for cremation purposes.”
A memorial house post by Terry Horne stands outside of the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School. Photo by Cara McKenna
OMI claim to have no documents: researcher
Jimmie said the team wants to know more about the operations of the institutions and has been seeking out information but has been blocked from accessing certain records.
Some of the documents so far received — which are still being analyzed — have come from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the Royal BC Museum, provincial archives, the United Church and the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), a Catholic order of missionary priests, operated the St. Mary’s “school” and more than 50 others across the country.
“When we’ve had direct conversations with their chief administrative officer, they claim they no longer have any documents relevant to our work,” Jimmie said.
“They also have not been willing to facilitate direct conversations with the oblate fathers who may have direct knowledge of the operations of St. Mary’s.”
Jimmie said this lack of support from OMI has been contrary to public announcements about wanting to support survivors and their communities, and called on them to reach out to establish a direct relationship.
Shaepe said continually being redirected by OMI brings up questions about which documents and other information they do have in their custody.
“And why would they make a decision about documents that they would hold in their administrative archives and their administrative files that may be of interest to us?” he asked.
“But they’re not providing us access to even review. I think one of the things OMI needs to do is sit down with us and give us access to what records they actually have so we can determine for ourselves.”
A written statement from Ken Thorson from OMI Lacombe Canada to IndigiNews said the order was “deeply saddened” by the news from Stó:lō and expressed regret for the oblates’ role.
He said “any relevant records” from St. Mary’s “would be housed at the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Archives Deschâtelets in Richelieu.”
“We have an ongoing working relationship with both facilities and have provided them with funding to support their responses to requests from Indigenous researchers,” he said.
“It is my understanding that RBCM has been in contact with Stó:lō Nation directly to initiate the process of sharing digital records with them.”
Further, Thorson said, there is only one living oblate remaining who worked at St. Mary’s.
“We have not received any meeting requests on his behalf and he would not likely be capable of accepting such a request due to his advanced health situation,” he said.
However, Schaepe insisted that there must be knowledge that was transferred within the OMI order that is relevant to their work.
“There’s no living connection to the operation of the St. Mary’s grounds, whether it was the old grounds or the new grounds?” he asked.
“I think that’s another thing that they need to come forward and talk to us about. … At this point, they’ve not provided any connection to anybody, that history that knowledge basis should be, you know, a foundation for us gaining some additional information.”
A woman raises her hands to drummers who opened and closed the announcement on Sept. 21. Photo by Cara McKenna
Federal records also inaccessible
Meanwhile, Kostuchenko said she previously worked for the federal government doing residential “school” research, supporting settlement claims, but now cannot access these same archives.
“In my 14 years there I was one of hundreds of dedicated researchers who created a database that ultimately contained more than one million individual documents about these types of institutions all across Canada,” she said.
“These documents came from the Department of Indian Affairs files, from other federal departments, but also all of the religious organizations that were involved in running these institutions.”
Kostuchenko said this research involved noting “students” and staff members by name and recording information about child illnesses, deaths and sometimes abuse. She said having direct access to this archive would “vastly expedite” the team’s research, however they haven’t been able to.
IndigiNews reached out to the federal government for comment but did not receive a response before publication time.
Stó:lō Tribal Council Grand Chief Doug Kelly said the work is only the beginning, as researchers expect to continue the project for years to come. Photo by Cara McKenna
‘There was no accountability. None. There was no justice.’
Stó:lō Tribal Council Grand Chief Doug Kelly said the research, which is just at the very beginning, represents “a journey to confirming the truth that we carry in our DNA.”
“Our people are carrying incredible pain that was inflicted upon them by removal from their home, from their parents, their grandparents, their families, and being placed in residential schools,” he said.
“Where there was no oversight to keep those children safe. Where there was no oversight to ensure they were provided adequate food, warmth, shelter.”
He added that “there was no accountability. None. There was no justice.”
Cyril Pierre of Katzie First Nation, a survivor of St. Mary’s, said he feels that the preliminary results validate the experience he and others went through in residential “schools.”
“The hurt and pain the generations have faced is now coming to the surface, and this is a part of the truth that Canada must face,” he said in a statement.
“This is our truth. There is now justice for the Elders that have passed and the little baby ancestors that have been found. We are now able to properly give the babies that were found a send off in our sacred ways.
“This is just the beginning of our process; we are far from a full pledge to healing as so many have been hurt. But this is the first step. A step into strengthening our relationships and building a better world for our future generations.”
Support for survivors and their families is available. Call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066, 1-866-925-4419 for the 24-7 crisis line. The KUU-US Crisis Line Society also offers 24-7 support at 250-723-4050 for adults, 250-723-2040 for youth, or toll free at 1-800-588-8717.
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In photos: Dozens rally at B.C. Legislature to demand ‘Winnipeg’ landfill search
Content warning: This story contains details about “Canada’s” genocidal epidemic of MMIWG2S+. Please look after your spirit and read with care.
Dozens of people gathered at the B.C. Legislature on Monday as part of a country-wide day of action calling for a search of a “Winnipeg” landfill and other facilities across the country where MMIWG2S+ could be located.
The event in “Victoria” was one of numerous rallies held across “Canada” on Sept. 18 as part of a newly-declared Day of Action to Search the Landfills.
Though the current push is to have the “Manitoba” government support a search of the Prairie Green landfill — where the bodies of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are believed to be located — there are also calls to search the Brady Road landfill and any others that may contain the remains of missing Indigenous people given the extent of the MMIWG2S+ crisis.
At the events, people gathered in support of the families of Harris and Myran, who are believed to have been slain by a serial killer and left at the Prairie Green landfill north of “Winnipeg.”
“Indigenous women make up an alarming amount of homicides that are committed across Turtle Island,” said Wuskwi Sipihk woman Brandy Quill at the rally at the B.C. Legislature. “This lack of response from the government is continuing the cycle.”
Last month, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said her government would not search the Prairie Green landfill, citing safety reasons because of toxic chemicals that could harm workers.
“They said it is unsafe [to search the landfill] due to toxic waste,” said Tsartlip woman Priscilla Omulo, who organized the rally at the B.C. Legislature. “Well, I would like to say that the harmful and fatal toxic waste is anti-Indigenous racism, and that’s the foundation of the injustice of the MMIWG2S and their families.”
Jeremy Skibicki was charged with first-degree murders of Harris, 39, and Myran, 26, and two other Indigenous women — Rebecca Contois, a member of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, and an unidentified woman who Indigenous leaders are calling Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe “Buffalo Woman.” Skibicki’s trial is scheduled for next year.
MMIWG2S+ advocate Monique May, who is an organizer with the annual Stolen Sisters Memorial March, said landfills have been searched for bodies in the past.
“I can list the landfills in Canada that have been searched,” she said. “The only difference between those searches and what’s happening in Winnipeg is the colour of skin.”
Dealing with political leaders and the bureaucratic process of recovering the Indigenous women has been tiring for the families who are mourning their relatives. “Give us those hazmat suits, and we will train ourselves if you will not retrieve our women, because I am sick of words,” said Morgan Harris’s daughter, Cambria Harris, last month.
Harris met with federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree yesterday but walked out of the meeting, saying she felt disrespected and retraumatized when officials questioned the feasibility of the search. She expressed her view that political leaders aren’t taking the crisis seriously.
Dakota, a Cree, Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Youth, and their stepfather Alex McCallum-Taylor, a Kwakwa̲ka̲’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth artist, performer, and cook, joined the rally at the B.C. Legislature on Sept. 18.
“It is time for action,” said May. “We need to come together. Genocide is happening on our land. We are losing people every day. No family should have to go to a landfill to pay respects to their loved ones. That is cruel and inhumane. Let’s bring our sisters home.”
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Ahead of Orange Shirt Day, WLFN powwow dancers don orange regalia as ‘symbol of resilience’
Ahead of Orange Shirt Day, dancers at a Williams Lake powwow donned orange regalia to honour all the Indigenous children and families who have been impacted by residential “schools.”
The Orange Regalia Special took place as part of the second annual Speaking Our Truth Competition Pow Wow, which was hosted by Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) in T’exelc from Sept. 8 to 10.
The special was introduced in the powwow’s inaugural year in 2022 alongside various other dance categories for all ages.
Addressing the crowd on the powwow’s second day, emcee Stan Isadore praised the group of dancers and their regalia.
“This colour that you see on the floor is a colour that is being honoured and represented as a symbol of resilience and a symbol of strength,” said Isadore.
“There are so many beautiful things that they will never take away from us, they can never take away from us.”
Dancers of all ages participated in the Orange Regalia special. Photo by Dionne Phillips
Orange Shirt Day — also recognized as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — takes place each year on Sept. 30.
It began after Phyllis (Jack) Webstad shared her story of her new orange shirt being taken from her on her first day of residential “school” in the early 1970s. The Orange Shirt Society is a non-profit organization that started in Williams Lake in Secwépemc Territory.
It’s through Webstad’s story that Orange Shirt Day came to be, taking place in September because it was around the time of year when children would historically be taken from their families and forced to attend residential “school.”
Kúkwpi7 Willie Sellars dances before the contest portion of the Orange Regalia special. Photo by Dionne Phillips
The Orange Regalia Special began with a solo dance from WLFN Kúkwpi7 Willie Sellars, as a drum beat pounded through the arbour, before the floor was opened to the rest of the dancers.
The group of about 30 dancers represented all ages — from young children in the Tiny Tot categories to Elders in the Golden Age categories. Various styles of dance were represented through this special as they all moved through the arbour during two songs.
From the larger group, the judges then picked the top six to continue dancing for the second song with one winner being chosen at the end of the two songs.
“And it’s evident here today, brothers and sisters, it’s evident here on the floor, you see all orange, you see the First Nations people with their language, their culture and every colour and design that they’re wearing is a story that stays with them for time immemorial,” Isadore said as applause filled the arbour for the dancers.
Isadore praised the dancers and their regalia as he told the crowd to witness, “the powerful colour of orange being honoured by powerful First Nations people.”
“We’re still here and we’re going to be here for many, many years to come,” Isadore said.
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