The remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, have been found bur*ed at a former residential school for indigenous children in Canada. Those youngsters were students at the Kamloops Indian Res!dent*al School in British Columbia that closed in 1978, according to the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Nation, which said the remains were found with the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist.
None of them have been identified, and it remains uncl-ear how they died. S!rviv*rs fear more bodies will be found at the same site – as well as at the 80 other former residential school sites across Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his h**ro* at the discovery.
He said: ‘The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school br-eaks my heart – it is a pa!nf!l reminder of that dark and sha*ef-ul chapter of our country’s history.
‘I am thinking about everyone aff-ected by this distressing news. We are here for you.’ ‘It’s a h!rsh reality and it’s our truth, it’s our history,’ Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir told a media conference Friday.
‘And it’s something that we’ve always had to f*ght to prove. To me, it’s always been a h!rr*ble, h!rribl* history.’ Casimir said they had begun searching for the remains of missing children at the school grounds in the early 2000s, as they had long susp-ected official explanations of runaway children were part of a cover-up by the state.
Canada’s resid-ential school system, which f!rc!bly separated indigenous children from their families, constituted ‘cultural genocide,’ a six-year inv-estig-ation into the now-def-unct system found in 2015. The system was created by Christian churches and the Canadian government in the 19th century in an attempt to ‘assimilate’ and convert !ndig!nous youngsters into Canadian society.
They were for*ibly removed from their families to attend the schools. Many of the children found de-ad are fea-red to have suff-ered deadly di!ea*es including caries, although s!rv!vors say physical and s****l ab**se was rife.
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada documented h!rr!fic physical a**se, r-ape, malnutrition and other atr-ocities suffered by many of the 150,000 children who attended the schools, typically run by Christian churches on behalf of state governments from the 1840s to the 1990s.
It found more than 4,100 children died while attending residential schools. The d****s of the 215 children bur-ied in the grounds of what was once Canada’s largest res!de*tial school are believed to not have been included in that figure and appear to have been undocumented until the discovery shared on Friday.
Surv-ivors who attended the school say had friends and classmates who disapp-eared suddenly, and were never sp*k*n of again. A sur!ivor of the Kamloops school, Chief Harvey McLeod of the Upper Nicola Band, said the gruesome discovery had brought up pa***l memories of his time there. McLeod was taken to the school in 1966 with seven of his siblings, and says he suff-ered physical and s**** abu*** there.
His parents had also attended the school, and said it must have been traumatizing for them dropping off their children knowing the misery that awaited them. ‘I l*st my heart, it was so much h*rt and p-ain to finally hear, for the outside world, to finally hear what we ass-umed was happening there,’ McLeod told CNN.
‘This is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions,’ British Columbia premier John Horgan said in a statement, adding he was ‘ sca-red, and heartbroken’ that 215 bodies had been found at the site.
Children would disappear suddenly from the residential facility, and no one would question where they had gone. ‘It was ass-umed that they ran away and were never going to come back. We just never seen them again and nobody ever talked about them,’ he told CTV. Chief McLeod said despite the p*** and trauma that the discovery had resur-faced, he hoped it would allow he and other su!viv*rs to heal.
‘I have forgiven, I have forgiven my parents, I have forgiven my ab!sers, I have br*ken the chain that held me back at that school, I don’t want to live there anymore but at the same time make sure that the people who didn’t come home are acknowledged and respected and brought home in a good way,’ he told CNN. Another survivor Jeanette Jules said the news had ‘triggered memories hurt, and pain’.
Jules, who now works a a counsellor with Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Indian Band, said she was haunted by memories of the guards coming to the children’s rooms at night.
‘I would hear cl-unk, cl-unk…and it is one of the security guards…then the whimpers,…the whimpers because here is the guy who molests people,’ she told CTV. The Canadian PM Trudeau wrote in a tweet that the news ‘breaks my heart – it is a pa**ful reminder of that dark and sha-meful chapter of our country’s history.’
Once the largest school in Canada, with about 500 pupils at its peak, Kamloops was run by the Catholic Church until 1969, when the federal government took over. In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the system. The Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Nation said it was engaging with the coroner and reaching out to the home communities whose children attended the school. They expect to have preliminary findings by mid-June.
Whether the discovery leads to a class action lawsuit aga-inst the church or the State, or even an attempt to bring cr!m!nal charges, depends on how the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc decide to proceed, Thompson Rivers University law professor Craig Jones told Castanet Kamloops.
Jones said identifying the v!ct!ms and building a picture of who they were and whether they have surviving relatives could determine any future l!tig*tion.
‘In the ordinary course, if we were investigating a mass grave in Rwanda or Mexico or the former Yugoslavia, then you would just have a sort of team of forensic experts taking DNA samples without much regard to the gravesite as anything but a source of ev!de-nce,’ he said.
‘Here, we have cultural sensitivities and very delicate protocols that may actually mitigate against finding out all that we can from the remains of the v!ct!ms.’
Jones said he expects the discovery will lead to a fresh wave of lawsuits, but not cr*m!nal charges. ‘Absent the sort of individual ev!d*nce where you could attribute a particular d***h to a particular act or oversight, you’re not going to have a c****l case,’ he said.
In a statement, British Columbia Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee called finding such grave sites ‘urgent work’ that ‘refreshes the grief and loss for all First Nations in British Columbia.’
The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation discovery was the first time a major burial site has been discovered. The Kamloops Indian Residential School, located on the outskirts of Kamloops, 250 miles northeast of Vancouver, was one of a network of dozens of boarding schools set up by the Canadian Government’s Department of Indian Affairs in the 19th Century to assimilate the native people into ‘European cultural practices’.
Once there, the students were completely disconnected from their customs and language and forc-ed to speak English or French and indoctrinated with the rac!st attitudes towards indigenous that were prevalent in Canadian society during the period.
The Kamloops school was established in 1890 and operated until 1969, its roll peaking at 500 during the 1950s when it was the largest in the country.
From 1892, it was run by a Catholic order called the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. According to The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the school’s principal in 1910 said it did not receive enough money from the Government to properly feed students.
A portion of the school was destr-oyed in 1924, and in 1969 the Federal Government took over administration of the school. The passes- away of more than 6000 children were found to have o*curr*d in the school system, with many thousands more children unaccounted for.
Conditions were so rife with disease, abuse and neglect that the odds of dying in Canadian residential schools were about the same as for those serving in Canada’s military during World War II.
In 2017, Justin Trudeau formally asked Pope Francis to apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in the school system.
The next year, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying the Pope would not personally apologize, but that he had not ‘shied away from recognizing injustices faced by indigenous peoples around the world’.
This week, the Catholic church again formally apologized for its role in the tra-gedy. ‘The p*** that such news causes reminds us of our ongoing need to bring to light every tr!gi* situation that oc***d in residential schools run by the Church,’ the Archbishop of the Vancouver Archdiocese, J. Michael Miller, said in a statement.
‘The passage of time does not erase the s*ffer!ng.’ Horgan, the British Columbia premier, said he ‘honored’ the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc people as they grappled with this ‘burden from a dark chapter of Canadian history’.
Horgan said he was fully committed to ‘bringing to light the full truth of this loss’. ‘It is a stark example of the violence the Canadian residential school system inflicted upon Indigenous peoples and how the consequences of these atrocities continue to this day.’
Casimir, chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation, said she expected more bodies may be found at the site as there were more areas of the school grounds to search.
‘Given the size of the school, with up to 500 students registered and attending at any one time, we understand that this confirmed loss affects First Nations communities across British Columbia and beyond,’ she said after the discovery was revealed.
The First Nations Health Authority CEO Richard Jock said the discovery ‘!llust*ates the damaging and lasting impacts that the residential school system continues to have on First Nations people, their families and communities’.
Experts warned more mass burial sites would be found in the coming years. ‘There are residential school burial sites all over Canada, some of which have yet to be discovered,’ Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, told CTV News Channel.
After hearing reports of the bodies being discovered at the school, Canadian artist Tamara Bell created the display of 215 sets of children’s shoes at the Vancouver Art Gallery so people could understand the scale of the trag-edy.
‘I was so emotional. I was mortified,’ she Bell.
‘Then this morning I woke up and I realized I really, really wanted to do something I wanted to start healing. I had to do something. I wanted to create a v!sual so people could see what 215 children look like.’