VANCOUVER – First Nations communities in British Columbia are in mourning after the remains of 215 children were found at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops.
The discovery illustrates the damage the school system continues to cause, even decades after its disbandment.
The remains were found last weekend using ground-penetrating radar.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc group is now working with the Royal British Columbia Museum to see if any records of the deaths can be found.
Chief Rosanne Casimir called this an “unthinkable loss”.
“We had knowledge in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented dead, ”she said in an interview with CTV News on Friday.
The band will work with the coroner and contact surrounding communities who had children attending school.
Kamloops Indian Residential School operated between 1890 and 1969 and was once the largest in Canada’s residential school system.
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs is calling on all Canadians to take a break.
“This is the reality of the genocide that has been and is being inflicted on us as indigenous peoples by the colonial state. Today we honor the lives of these children and pray that they and their families can finally be at peace, ”said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.
British Columbia Premier John Horgan also offered his condolences on Friday, saying he was horrified and heartbroken.
“I pay tribute to Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc as they tackle this burden of a dark chapter in Canadian history and I maintain their commitment to complete this investigation over the coming weeks – thus highlighting light the whole truth about this loss, ”he said in a statement. .
Over five years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report found that at least 3,200 Indigenous children had died of abuse and neglect in institutions across the country.
A FORCE SHOW
A school system survivor spoke to CTV News about what he remembers, following news of the discovery.
“It changed my life and there were a lot of horrible things that happened to me, and I know a lot of people who were part of this school system,” said Chief Harvey McLeod of the Upper Nicola Band.
Among them are members of his family and his community.
The chief, too, is a school survivor and says the news was hard to hear.
“One of the huge revelations that happened to me yesterday was to realize how strong I didn’t know I had as a child, the strength to survive and leave this school and be here today.”
He says he carries the pain of what he has been through with him to this day.
“I always thought I was a weak man, but now I know how much I should be able to come home and be where I am today,” he said.
McLeod says he still remembers the faces of the missing children.
“We didn’t talk about it too much because I was one of the people who said, ‘I’m going to run away. I will move away from this place. But after seeing some of my friends come back and get caught and say how they were treated, we decided that we are just going to toughen it up.
He says now is the time for the community to come together and find a way forward.
“Make sure that the remains found are taken care of and that we are there and support our grieving people,” he said.
A National Residential School Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former residential school students and those affected.
Emotional and crisis counseling services are available by calling the 24 hour national crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.
Kamloops Heritage Park is closed to the public while construction begins.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc plans to complete its preliminary findings by mid-June.