Open letter to UBC Senate

June 1st, 2021

The Alma Mater Society (AMS) of UBC would like to reiterate our deepest condolences and sympathies to the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc people and the families of the 215 children discovered in an unmarked burial site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. This devastating news confirms what Indigenous communities and survivors of the residential school system have known to be true about the deaths of Indigenous children in these schools. The tragic findings in Kamloops highlight instrumental role that residential schools have played in the genocide of Indigenous people and the intergenerational trauma that persists today.

As members of the UBC community, we are horrified by the revelation that the former Principal of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, Bishop John O’Grady, was awarded an honorary degree in a Doctor of Laws from our university in 1986.

The AMS calls upon the UBC Senate to revoke the honorary degree of Bishop John O’Grady and to conduct a full review of previous recipients to ensure no individuals who have been complicit in the residential school system retain the highest honour of our institution. As the University commits to the implementation of the Indigenous Strategic Plan, it must also take responsibility for the honours it has bestowed upon individuals who have inflicted profound, intergenerational harm through their involvement in the residential school system.  

As students, we must reflect on the role that our academic institutions have played in the education, and honouring, of policy-makers and educators who designed, administered and taught in the residential school system. At this time of immense grief and mourning, we take seriously our responsibility to listen, learn and educate ourselves further on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and ways we can implement the report’s Calls to Action in our campus and local communities. We invite you to join us in learning more through the following resources:

If you or someone you know is in need of support, please reach out.

Internal resources:

  • UBC Counselling Services: 604-822-3811
  • Here2Talk offers free, 24/7 single-session counselling by phone or online chat for UBC students anywhere in the world.
  • Culturally relevant counselling for Indigenous students is available at the First Nations House of Learning: 604-822-8941 or fnhl.community@ubc.ca

External resources:

  • 24/7 Indigenous support resources:
    • Indian Residential School Survivors Society Crisis Line: 1-800-721-0066
    • Kuu-Us Crisis Line (BC Only): 1-800-588-8717
    • National Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
    • Tsow-Tun-Le Lum: 1-888-403-3123
  • 24/7 Kids Help Phone: call 1-800-668-6868 or text 686868

Eshana Bhangu
AMS VP of University and Academic Affairs
vpacademic@ams.ubc.ca