For decades, most Indigenous children in Canada have been abducted from their families and forcibly taken to residential schools. Many of them never returned home. Their families have received only vague explanations, if any.
Now an Indigenous community in British Columbia says it has found evidence of what happened to some of its missing children: They ended up in a mass grave on the grounds of a former residential school that contains the remains of 215 children .
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Indigenous Nation, one of Canada’s so-called First Nations, announced on Friday (28) that penetrating radars had discovered the remains near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. , which he directed from 1890 until the end of the 1970s.
“It is a painful reality and it is our truth, our history,” Casimir said at a press conference. “It’s something we’ve always had to fight to prove. For me, it has always been a horrible, dark story.
The remains, which the chef described as “many, many years, if not decades ago,” include those of children as young as 3 years old.
Beginning in the 19th century, Canada had a system of boarding schools or boarding schools, mostly run by churches, in which Indigenous children were required to study. The system declined in the 1970s. The last such school was closed in 1996.
A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission established as part of a government effort to apologize and pay damages at school found at least 4,100 students died while studying in schools.
Many died from ill-treatment or lack of care, others from illnesses or accidents. The commission found that in many cases, families never knew what had happened to their children, who are now known as missing children.
It’s not just today that rumors are circulating about unidentified graves in schools. But if the findings of a preliminary report presented this week to the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation are confirmed, it will be the first time that a large cemetery has been discovered.
The Kamloops school was once Canada’s largest residential school, with a maximum of 500 students at its peak. It was operated by the Catholic Church until 1969, when its control passed to the federal government.
“The pain this news causes us reminds us of the need to clarify all the tragic situations that have occurred in the Church-run residential schools,” Archbishop P. Michael Miller of the Archdiocese of Vancouver said in a statement. . “The passage of time does not erase suffering.”
Unlike other religious groups that ran residential schools, the Catholic Church refused to formally apologize for abuse at schools. In 2018, Pope Francis rejected a direct appeal from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in this regard.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded in 2015 that residential schools were a program of cultural genocide. The use of indigenous languages has been banned in schools and the ban has sometimes been enforced with violence. The same is true of indigenous cultural practices.
Rosanne Casimir said the search for the remains in Kamloops began in the early 2000s, in part because official explanations – including suggestions that the missing children simply fled – did not match reports from former students.
“There had to be more than that,” she said. “It was necessary to use the advanced technology available today to look below the surface of the ground and confirm some of the reports that have been made in the past.”
She said the radar scan was not yet complete. “We haven’t looked at all of the land yet. We know there is still more to discover, ”said the chef.
John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia, said he was “shocked and saddened” and said he supported the nation’s efforts to “cause all of this loss”.
According to Casimir, Indigenous communities across Canada had children who were forcibly taken to residential schools and then disappeared.
“Many other First Nations who had residential schools in their communities also want to know what happened and use new technologies to be able to locate their loved ones,” she said. “It is an honor to take care of these children.”