The remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were found in a mass grave on the site of a former residential school that was once part of a nationwide effort in Canada to separate Indigenous children from their families in order to assimilate.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery in a press release The remains were found Thursday after working with a “ground penetrating radar specialist” to confirm the mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Chef Rosanne Casimir called it an “unthinkable loss” and said that although the deaths had been talked about for a long time, the residential school never documented them.
“We had knowledge in our community that we could check. To the best of our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” said Casimir. “We have been looking for a way to confirm that we know and understand with deep respect and love for these lost children and their families that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the discovery was heartbreaking and called it “a painful reminder of this dark and shameful chapter in our country’s history”.
The news found in the former residential school in Kamloops breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of this dark and shameful chapter in the history of our country. I think of everyone who has been affected by this troubling news. We’re here for you. https://t.co/ZUfDRyAfET
– Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) May 28, 2021
The residential school system in Canada served as a compulsory boarding school for indigenous youth and was run by churches and the federal government for more than 150 years in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The conditions in the schools were bad. Children were often not allowed to speak their own language and were severely punished for doing so. Many were physically and sexually abused and the staff were not held accountable.
In 2015 a national center for truth and reconciliation More than 150,000 children were reportedly attending these schools and more than 6,000 died without returning home.
What happened in schools was “cultural genocide,” according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.
The report said the residential schools are “a systematic, government-sponsored attempt to destroy Aboriginal cultures and languages and to assimilate Aboriginal peoples so that they no longer exist as separate peoples.”
In 2008, The Canadian government officially apologized to the First Nations and indigenous communities for the schools and treatment of children.
The school system began to close in the 1970s, and the Kamloops Indian Residential School closed in 1978. However, the effects can still be felt today in the municipality of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, Casimir said.
Thursday’s announcement is just the first of the preliminary results. The radar survey of the rest of the school grounds is to be continued and “hopefully bring peace and closure to the lost lives and their home communities,” said the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.
When and how the children died remains to be determined, but the remaining preliminary results of the soil survey are expected to be released in mid-June.