On May 27, 2021, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced that they had discovered the probable remains of up to 215 children, students of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, an institution in operation for more than 80 years and once the largest Residential School in Canada. 

Following this discovery, the Canadian government elevated Orange Shirt Day, a day during which survivors of Residential Schools are honoured, to a statutory holiday known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to be observed every year on Sept. 30. 

“This is the very first Canadian National Day of Truth and Reconciliation,” said Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir.   

“It is made even more meaningful by the confirmation of the missing children from the Kamloops Indian Residential School found in unmarked graves on the grounds. Now that the cries of the missing children have been heard, it is time to show them love, honour, and respect. They were children robbed of their families and their childhood, and now we need to give them the dignity that they never had.” 

A search conducted by Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) in an apple orchard on the former school grounds, now the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park, revealed between 200 and 215 probable burial sites, relying on direction from eyewitnesses and survivors of the school, with some recalling, “children as young as six years old being woken in the night to dig holes for burials in the apple orchard.” 

This was corroborated in part by the previous discoveries of both a juvenile rib bone and tooth surfacing within the survey area and being excavated during a shovel test pit.  

Despite the restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc wanted to come up with a way of educating, connecting and engaging those who wished to honour the children whose lives were lost at Kamloops Residential School, and other schools across Canada and North America. 

“The confirmation of the Kamloops Indian Residential School missing children has impacted people locally, regionally, nationally and even globally,” said Casimir.

“There has been an outpouring of sympathy and collective grief, so we wanted to create a moment to share an important aspect of our traditions and how we will deal with grief, loss, and healing.” 

It was with this intention that the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc came up with the Drum for the Children event, during which everyone is called upon to drum and sing to honour the missing children of the Residential School system. 

A short video has been made available on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc’s social media channels and website, teaching people how to drum and sing the Secwepemc Honour Song. Then, on Sept. 30, 2021, at 2:15 p.m. PDT, participants worldwide are invited to join together to sing and drum.

“We chose 2:15 because it was that number that made a ripple around the world, at the end of May of this year, about the truth of missing, unmarked graves at the sites of former Kamloops Indian Residential School, as it revealed the truth of the historic mistreatment of indigenous children,” said Casimir.  

“It’s time to honour the children, and the unrelenting spirits of these ancestors. It’s time to drum for the healing of the Indian Residential School Survivors, who carried the burden of knowing where the children were buried, and to drum for the healing of the families and communities whose children did not come home.” 

The instructional video can be viewed at www.tkemlups.ca/drum.