The remains were buried on the site of what was once Canada's largest Indigenous residential school.
Remains of 215 children were found in a residential school in British Columbia, Canada, recently. Some of the remains are of children as young as 3 years old. The remains were buried on the site of what was once Canada's largest Indigenous residential school. The institution, one of many, held indigenous children snatched from their families across the country, as per NBC News.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation said that the bodies were found with the help of ground-penetrating radar during the weekend of May 22-23. The chief added that more bodies could be found on the school grounds as they haven't covered the entire campus.
In a previous statement, she said that the discovery was an “unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented at the Kamloops Indian Residential School."
The policy of separating indigenous children from their parents lasted between the 19th century until the 1970s. More than 150,000 First Nations children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools so they could be assimilated into Canadian society. The children were also required to convert to Christianity and were forbidden from speaking their native languages. Many of them were abused, physically and mentally, and up to 6,000 children allegedly died on those premises.
“When I arrived, I was taken back. I was shocked,” Rosanne told CTV News. She was shocked by the markings that showed the number of graves. "When it was shared with me that these were children, our children, from our community...It was devastating," she added.
The graves were found thanks to the resolve of a Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc member’s passion. “It was an absolute determination to find them,” said the chief. While indigenous people across the nation are mourning the loss, they don't want it hidden from the world anymore.
"We do not want this to be hidden. We want this to come to resolve, we want people to know that this history is real, the loss of the children is real,” she said. “For our community, our people, our nation, we just want everyone to acknowledge the history that is there," she added.
The Secwepemc Nation will be working to identify the children, who could have died anytime between the 19th century to the 1970s. The Kamloops Indian Residential School isn't even the only one where children met such fates. "There are residential school burial sites all over Canada, some of which have yet to be discovered,” Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, told CTV News Channel.
Children from multiple generations could be buried in the schools, where they should have been receiving knowledge instead of being treated as less than. Cindy added that the Canadian government knew about the deaths of children, and didn't take action.
“As early as 1904, the government of Canada knew that its unequal provision of health care funding was contributing to the death rates of children in these schools at a rate of about 25%. It was in the media and everything," she said.
The sheer scale of the loss has been hard to process for many. The Minister of Crown-Indigenous relations said, "The revelation, 215 [children], I think really speaks to all Canadians about that chapter in our history that really none of us knew about in school, and that now everybody knows and as we say, once you know the truth, you can't unknow the truth of this."
While the Canadian government had apologized for the deaths in 2008 in Parliament, the graves were a fresh wound to the First Nation people. "This really resurfaces the issue of residential schools and the wounds from this legacy of genocide towards Indigenous people," Terry Teegee, Assembly of First Nations regional chief for British Columbia, was quoted as saying by NBC News.
Cover image: File photo of Kamloops Indian Residential School | Source: Wikimedia Commons