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.
Chef Rosanne Casimir called it 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 group 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 was 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 honor Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc as they tackle this burden of a dark chapter in Canadian history and deliver on their commitment to complete this investigation over the next few weeks – highlighting all the truth about this loss, ”he said in a statement. .
More than five years ago, the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that at least 3,200 indigenous children have died as a result of abuse and neglect in institutions across the country.
A DEMONSTRATION OF STRENGTH
A survivor of the school system has spoken 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 in this school system,” said Chief Harvey McLeod of the Upper Nicola Band.
Among these are members of his family and 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 realizing my strength that I didn’t know I had as a kid, the strength to survive and get away from 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 really talk too much about it 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 talk about how they were treated, we decided we were just going to resist.
He says now is the time for the community to come together and find a way forward.
“Make sure that the remains that are found are taken care of in a satisfactory manner and that we are there and support our grieving people,” he said.
A National Residential Schools 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.
Heritage Park in Kamloops is closed to the public while construction begins.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc expects to complete preliminary findings by mid-June.