Syilx journalist shares how she’ll report on Kamloops Indian Residential School

‘I speak as a mother,’ says Kelsie Kilawna.

This article contains content about residential schools that may be triggering. IndigiNews is committed to trauma-informed ethical reporting, which involves taking time and care, self-location, transparency and safety care plans for those who come forward with stories to share.

Last Thursday, I was driving home from my little cousin’s wake, who tragically passed much too soon. When I got home I opened my phone and saw the news: “215 Bodies Found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS),” read multiple headlines.

My heart sank. My first instinct was complete anger. 

Immediately, I went on social media, to try and inform other journalists how to report on the tragedy.

I was angry at how this news was splayed across so many outlets, without due care or attention to how it would impact my family. News like this needs careful specific treatment to protect the integrity of the people.

I have spent the past 15 years working in trauma-informed community-based spaces, where I’ve advocated for children and families’ well-being. I knew immediately how news like this should have been delivered. 

I thought about the impact this news was going to have on my family who survived the Kamloops Indian Residential School, and the impact on my relations and kin across the country. 

I speak as a mother

I was raised to speak from my heart, and to locate myself in relation to an issue I’m speaking to. Because this tragedy directly impacts my family, I needed to declare who I was immediately, so that I could know how to go forward with my voice. 

I declared Friday morning that I speak as a mother. 

In Syilx ways, I am stepping forward as a caretaker of relationships and kinships. I am speaking as someone who is inherently protective of my relations in their time of grief — I knew instantly that this would be my role throughout this time. 

Any reporting that follows this story, I situate myself as a mother.

I am writing on behalf of all the mothers whose voices were taken away. I write for the Elders who as children never got to know their mother’s loving embrace, and I write for the children today. 

We will pour our love into our children, and we will protect their integrity at all costs. 

This means my writing practices will be centered around love, healing, integrity, and uplifting the good, while following the highest quality of journalistic standards.

I have always declared I am a Syilx and Secwépemc woman, before I am anything else. I am making it known that this issue has impacted my family gravely. We have been triggered. We, the Syilx and Secwépemc, and nations beyond have family there in the ground, and in all of my writing, I write in honour of the 215 children whose lives were taken, and those who didn’t make the count. 

It is time for the media to step up and raise the ethical standards. It’s time for newsrooms to make space for those who see and represent Indigenous Peoples as the diverse, beautiful, powerful, strong human beings we are, and to stop reducing people to bodies to be further exploited. 

Every morning as I wake, I will smudge and pray, and do my best to write in a way that doesn’t cause more harm. I situate myself as a mother, a Syilx and Secwépemc journalist who pledges to protect the people, as a mother does.

A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866 925-4419.

Within B.C., the KUU-US Crisis Line Society aims to provide a “non-judgmental approach to listening and problem solving.” The crisis line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 1-800-588-8717 or go to KUU-US means “people” in Nuu-chah-nulth.

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