Remains of 215 children found at former indigenous school site in Canada

The remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, have been found buried at a former residential school for indigenous children in Canada. 

Those youngsters were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia that closed in 1978, according to the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Nation, which said the remains were found with the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist.

None of them have been identified, and it remains unclear how they died.  

‘It’s a harsh reality and it’s our truth, it’s our history,’ Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir told a media conference Friday. 

‘And it’s something that we’ve always had to fight to prove. To me, it’s always been a horrible, horrible history.’  

Casimir said they had begun searching for the remains of missing children at the school grounds in the early 2000s, as they had long suspected official explanations of runaway children were part of a cover-up by the state.  

Canada’s residential school system, which forcibly separated indigenous children from their families, constituted ‘cultural genocide,’ a six-year investigation into the now-defunct system found in 2015.

The system was created by Christian churches and the Canadian government in the 19th century in an attempt to ‘assimilate’ and convert indigenous youngsters into Canadian society.  

Many of the children found dead are feared to have suffered diseases including tuberculosis, although survivors say physical and sexual abuse was rife. 

The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada documented horrific physical abuse, rape, malnutrition and other atrocities suffered by many of the 150,000 children who attended the schools, typically run by Christian churches on behalf of state governments from the 1840s to the 1990s.

It found more than 4,100 children died while attending residential schools. 

The deaths of the 215 children buried in the grounds of what was once Canada’s largest residential school are believed to not have been included in that figure and appear to have been undocumented until the discovery. 

Survivors who attended the school say had friends and classmates who disappeared suddenly, and were never spoken of again. 

A survivor of the Kamloops school, Chief Harvey McLeod of the Upper Nicola Band, said the gruesome discovery had brought up painful memories of his time there. 

McLeod was taken to the school in 1966 with seven of his siblings, and says he suffered physical and sexual abuse there.

His parents had also attended the school, and said it must have been traumatizing for them dropping off their children knowing the misery that awaited them. 

‘I lost my heart, it was so much hurt and pain to finally hear, for the outside world, to finally hear what we assumed was happening there,’ McLeod told CNN

The children whose remains were found were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia (pictured) that closed in 1978

The children whose remains were found were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia (pictured) that closed in 1978

The children whose remains were found were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia (pictured) that closed in 1978

The remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were found at the site. Many area feared to have succumbed to diseases including TB, although abuse was rife at the school

The remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were found at the site. Many area feared to have succumbed to diseases including TB, although abuse was rife at the school

The remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were found at the site. Many area feared to have succumbed to diseases including TB, although abuse was rife at the school

Chief Harvey McLeod, of the Upper Nicola Band, said children would go missing from the Kamloops residential school and never be heard from again

Chief Harvey McLeod, of the Upper Nicola Band, said children would go missing from the Kamloops residential school and never be heard from again

Chief Harvey McLeod, of the Upper Nicola Band, said children would go missing from the Kamloops residential school and never be heard from again

A message about the 215 children whose remains have been found buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, is written in chalk on the ground in Vancouver, on Friday

A message about the 215 children whose remains have been found buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, is written in chalk on the ground in Vancouver, on Friday

A message about the 215 children whose remains have been found buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, is written in chalk on the ground in Vancouver, on Friday

Children would disappear suddenly from the residential facility, and no one would question where they had gone.

‘It was assumed that they ran away and were never going to come back. We just never seen them again and nobody ever talked about them,’ he told CTV.

Chief McLeod said despite the pain and trauma that the discovery had resurfaced, he hoped it would allow he and other survivors to heal.  

‘I have forgiven, I have forgiven my parents, I have forgiven my abusers, I have broken the chain that held me back at that school, I don’t want to live there anymore but at the same time make sure that the people who didn’t come home are acknowledged and respected and brought home in a good way,’ he told CNN.  

Another survivor Jeanette Jules said the news had ‘triggered memories hurt, and pain’.

Jules, who now works a a counsellor with Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Indian Band, said she was haunted by memories of the guards coming to the children’s rooms at night. 

‘I would hear clunk, clunk…and it is one of the security guards…then the whimpers,…the whimpers because here is the guy who molests people,’ she told CTV. 

The Canadian PM Trudeau wrote in a tweet that the news ‘breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history.’

Jeanette Jules, who now works a a counsellor with Tk'emlups te Secwepemc Indian Band, said she was haunted by memories of the guards coming to the children's rooms at night

Jeanette Jules, who now works a a counsellor with Tk'emlups te Secwepemc Indian Band, said she was haunted by memories of the guards coming to the children's rooms at night

Jeanette Jules, who now works a a counsellor with Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Indian Band, said she was haunted by memories of the guards coming to the children’s rooms at night

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in a tweet that the news 'breaks my heart - it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country's history'

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in a tweet that the news 'breaks my heart - it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country's history'

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in a tweet that the news ‘breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history’

215 pairs of children's shoes are seen on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery as a memorial to the 215 children whose remains have been found

215 pairs of children's shoes are seen on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery as a memorial to the 215 children whose remains have been found

215 pairs of children’s shoes are seen on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery as a memorial to the 215 children whose remains have been found

Residential schools in Canada: A shocking history of abuse 

More than 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families and placed in residential schools from 1863 to 1998.

The system was created by Christian churches and the Canadian government in the 19th century in an attempt to ‘assimilate’ and convert indigenous youngsters into Canadian society.

There, they were banned from speaking their own languages or any of their traditional practices.

In 2008, the Canadian Federal Government formally apologized for the practice, and launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

The investigation found at least 4100 students died while attending the schools, many from abuse or neglect.  

Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, malnourishment and accidents were also common causes of death at the schools. 

The commission into ill treatment of indigenous children brought out horror stories of sexual and physical abuse and neglect.  

Many of those who survived the schools suffered chronic illnesses and disabilities. 

Released in 2015, the commission’s report admitted the policy was ‘cultural genocide’.

It established The Missing Children Project to document the thousands of children who died while attending the schools. 

The project had found 4100 before the latest discovery at Kamloops. 

Advertisement

Once the largest school in Canada, with about 500 pupils at its peak, Kamloops was run by the Catholic Church until 1969, when the federal government took over.

In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the system.

The Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Nation said it was engaging with the coroner and reaching out to the home communities whose children attended the school. They expect to have preliminary findings by mid-June.

Whether the discovery leads to a class action lawsuit against the church or the State, or even an attempt to bring criminal charges, depends on how the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc decide to proceed, Thompson Rivers University law professor Craig Jones told Castanet Kamloops.

Jones said identifying the victims and building a picture of who they were and whether they have surviving relatives could determine any future litigation. 

‘In the ordinary course, if we were investigating a mass grave in Rwanda or Mexico or the former Yugoslavia, then you would just have a sort of team of forensic experts taking DNA samples without much regard to the gravesite as anything but a source of evidence,’ he said.

‘Here, we have cultural sensitivities and very delicate protocols that may actually mitigate against finding out all that we can from the remains of the victims.’

Jones said he expects the discovery will lead to a fresh wave of lawsuits, but not criminal charges. 

‘Absent the sort of individual evidence where you could attribute a particular death to a particular act or oversight, you’re not going to have a criminal case,’ he said.  

In a statement, British Columbia Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee called finding such grave sites ‘urgent work’ that ‘refreshes the grief and loss for all First Nations in British Columbia.’ 

The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation discovery was the first time  a major burial site has been discovered.

link

(Visited 60 times, 2 visits today)

Leave a Reply