Remains Of 215 Indigenous Children Discovered At Former Residential School In Canada
The remains of 215 indigenous children, some as young as three years old, have been discovered at a former residential school in Canada.
The mass grave was discovered on the old grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The school, which closed in 1978, was run by the Catholic Church and was one of several such institutions in North America to which Indigenous children were sent, away from their families, in a forced attempt to assimilate them into Western society.
It’s understood that the children’s deaths were never documented, and so the exact timings and causes of the deaths are currently unknown. A representative from the Indigenous community in Kamloops said that they would work with museum specialists and the coroner’s office to further investigate the deaths.
Rosanne Casimir, chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation, announced the discovery on Thursday, May 28, calling it an ‘unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented at the Kamloops Indian Residential School’.
Casimir said that work has begun to inform local Canadian communities with families of children who attended the school of the finding, adding that the First Nation ‘acknowledges their responsibility to caretake for these lost children’.
Global News reports that work to identify the site of a possible mass grave began more than two decades ago in 2000, with the discovery of the remains made using ground-penetrating radar technology.
In a tweet following the announcement, Canadian 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.’
The Kamloops Indian Residential School opened in 1890, and was the largest such school in Canada, with a peak of 500 students in the mid-20th century. According to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established in 2008 to document the impact of the country’s assimilation policy and residential schools on Indigenous communities, children in schools like Kamloops were often subjected to physical, mental and sexual abuse, and lacked sufficient medical care.
In a report published in 2015, the Commission estimated that more than 4,000 Indigenous children died while at the schools, and called on the government to investigate the possible presence of unmarked mass graves at former residential school sites.
In 2019, the Canadian government accepted that its historic treatment of Indigenous communities amounted to genocide. Speaking to CNN, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the discovery was further evidence of a ‘horrific chapter in Canadian history’.
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