by Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Last week, in a gut-wrenching and triggering discovery, the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found buried at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the news on May 27, 2021 after the remains of 251 bodies were found with the use of ground-penetrating radar.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc Nation said that the discovery is an “unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”
Preliminary work in finding the remains began way back in the 2000s, Chief Casimir said, in order to confirm the stories.
“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Casimir said. “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.”
While its doors closed in 1978, the Kamloops Indian Residential School was the largest in the entire residential system — out of an astonishing 130 schools. Children from Penticton, Hope, Mount Currie, Lillooet and areas outside the province were sent to the Kamloops residential school.
It was opened under the Roman Catholic Church administration in 1890 and at its peak in the 1950s, the school’s enrolment consisted of approximately 500 Indigenous children.
The 215 deaths are believed to be undocumented.
And at the time of writing, 4,100 Indigenous deaths have been officially recognized during Canada’s cultural genocide.
The tragic news caused a terrible stir across the country with many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people voicing their disbelief, their shock, and their horror.
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) Secretary-Treasurer Judy Wilson said, “As Secwépemc we are grieving our relatives, and all of the stsmemelt, whose lives were lost to the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Though we knew that many children never returned home, and their families were left without answers, this confirmation brings a particular heaviness to our hearts and our spirits all throughout Secwépemculecw.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC President said that “there are no words to express the deep mourning that we feel as First Nations people, and as survivors, when we hear an announcement like this. These were children – all belonging to a family and community, and a Nation – who were forcibly stolen from their homes under the authority of the Canadian government, and never returned.”
Grand Chief Phillip called on Canada and Canadians everywhere to “witness and recognize the truth of our collective history. This is the reality of the genocide that was, and is, inflicted upon us as Indigenous peoples by the colonial state. Today we honour the lives of those children, and hold prayers that they, and their families, may finally be at peace.”
A day after the UBCIC’s press release, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history. I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you.”
Although the Prime Minister’s remarks were appreciated, many in the Indigenous community were quick to point out that the Federal Government is currently fighting residential school settlements in court.
It is suspected that other schools across the country also have similar gravesites.