In May 2021, the world was shocked by news of the detection of 215 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS) in British Columbia, Canada. Ground-penetrating radar confirmed the vestiges of children as young as three on this site of the infamous residential school system, which systematically removed children from their families and brought them to the schools. At these Christian-run, government-supported institutions, they were subjected to physical, mental, and sexual abuse while their Indigenous languages and traditions were stifled and denounced. The egregious abuses suffered in residential schools across the continent caused - as the 2021 discoveries confirmed - death for too many and a multigenerational legacy of trauma for those who survived.
"Tsqelmucwilc" (pronounced cha-CAL-mux-weel) is a Secwepemc phrase loosely translated as "We return to being human again." Tsqelmucwilc is the story of those who survived the Kamloops Indian Residential School, based on the 1988 book Resistance and Renewal, a groundbreaking history of the school - and the first book on residential schools ever published in Canada. Tsqelmucwilc includes the original text as well as new material by the original book's author, Celia Haig-Brown; essays by Secwepemc poet and KIRS survivor Garry Gottfriedson and Nuu-chah-nulth elder and residential school survivor Randy Fred; and first-hand reminiscences by other survivors of KIRS, as well as their children, on their experience and the impact of their trauma throughout their lives.
Read both within and outside the context of the grim 2021 discoveries, Tsqelmucwilc is a tragic story in the history of Indigenous peoples of the indignities suffered at the hands of their colonizers, but it is equally a remarkable tale of Indigenous survival, resilience, and courage.