The remains of 215 indigenous children have been uncovered at a former residential school in British Columbia.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the disturbing discovery on Thursday, confirming it had found a mass burial site on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Casimir said a ground-penetrating radar specialist was hired to survey the site, as the presence of the remains were “a knowing” among community members.
“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” the chief said in a press release. “Some were as young as three years old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children.”
According to the CBC, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is now working with the B.C. coroner and museums to uncover any records of the children’s deaths. The band has also reached out to various communities whose kids may have attended the school, which operated between 1890 to 1969 under Roman Catholic administration. The timing and causes of the children’s deaths remain unknown.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the discovery via Twitter on Friday, saying it was “a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history.”
If you are looking for someone to talk to about this news, please reach out to the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line. It is there to provide 24/7 support to former residential school students and those affected, and it can be reached by calling 1-866-925-4419.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) May 28, 2021
The institution was part of a residential school network that the church operated. It’s reported about 150,000 children were sent to the schools between the 1830s and mid-1990s as part of an assimilation campaign. According to the Guardian, many of the students were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in government-funded schools, where they were prohibited from speaking their native languages or engaging in cultural practices. Rampant abuse and neglect were also documented in the institutions, which is why many believe some of the children never returned to their communities.
Per the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc’s press release:
Some children ran away, and others died at the schools. The students who did not return have come to be known as the Missing Children. The Missing Children Project documents the deaths and the burial places of children who died while attending the schools. To date, more than 4,100 children who died while attending a residential school have been identified.
After reviewing death records, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation estimates at least 4,100 children died at the residential schools. But, of course, that figure is believed to be much higher, as many of the deaths were never reported.