A mass grave with the remains of 215 children was found in Canada in an old residential school built for Aboriginal students.
The children were students at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, which closed in 1978.
The discovery was announced on Thursday (27) by First Nation President Tk’emlups te Secwepemc.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this was a “painful reminder” of “a shameful chapter in the history of our country”. The First Nation is working with museum experts and healing staff to determine the causes and timing of the deaths, which until now are unknown.
Rosan Casimir, community chairperson in Kamloops, British Columbia, said the initial finding represented an unimaginable loss that school officials never documented.
Boarding schools in Canada were compulsory boarding schools run by the government and religious authorities during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the aim of forcibly assimilating young indigenous people into European culture.
The original Kamloops Residential School was the largest in this system. The school opened under Catholic administration in 1890, and had 500 students at its peak in the 1950s.
The central government took over the management of the school in 1969, and made it a student residence in the area until 1978, when the school was closed.
What is known about the remains?
The remains were found with the help of a ground-penetrating radar while searching for a school, The First Nation Tk’emlups te Secwepemc said.
“As far as we know, these missing children died without documents,” Casimir said.
“Some of them were only three years old.”
“We are looking for a way to affirm this with the deepest respect and love for those missing children and their families, knowing that Tk’emlups te Secwepemc is the last place of rest for these children.”
The indigenous people said they looked for indigenous communities whose children attended school. They hope to announce preliminary results in mid-June.
“We are at the very beginning of the information gathering process,” British Columbia Chief of Investigations, Lisa La Pointe, told Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
What was the reaction?
The reaction to the discovery was shock, sadness and remorse.
“The news that was found in the old Kamloops Residential School breaks my heart,” Trudeau wrote on Twitter.
Indian Canadian Affairs Minister Caroline Bennett said boarding schools were part of a “shameful” colonial policy. She said the government had pledged to “honor those innocent people who lost their lives.”
Terje Teje, the Regional President of the First Nations Association in British Columbia, described the discovery of “urgent action” that “brings pain and loss” to communities in the region.
Other Indigenous groups have echoed these views, including First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). “The fact that this situation exists, unfortunately, is not surprising and illustrates the harmful and long-term effects that the residential school system continues to suffer from. On First Nations members, their families and their communities,” CEO Richard Jock wrote in a statement.
What were the boarding schools?
From 1863 to 1998, more than 150,000 indigenous children were removed from their families and placed in these schools.
Often, children are not allowed to speak their language or practice their culture, and many have been subjected to abuse and abuse.
A committee launched in 2008 documenting the effects of this system found that many indigenous children have never returned to their original communities.
The landmark Truth and Reconciliation Report, released in 2015, said this policy amounts to “cultural genocide.”
In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the system.
The Missing Children project documents the deaths and burials of children who died while studying in schools. To date, more than 4,100 children have been identified who died while attending boarding school, according to the report.
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