For Canada’s First Nations, there appears no end to the horrors they encounter, almost on a daily basis.
With the latest discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children on the grounds of a former Kamloops Residential School, the tragedy revived memories of the ongoing suffering of First Nations.
The children belonged to Canada’s Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation but perhaps to other communities as well since children were often moved around from one school to another without proper documentation.
“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said in the statement on May 28.
“Some were as young as three years old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children.”
The Kamloops residential school for Native Children was opened in 1890 and rebuilt after a fire in 1923.
It was closed in 1978 when the federal government took over administration from the church.
Run by the Catholic Church, the many schools across Canada aimed to erase the culture, identity and language of First Nations’ children.
The Catholic Church played an active role in this cultural and physical genocide.
Most children suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
During its operations (1890-1978), at least 400 children’s deaths were recorded at the Kamloops school.
It had capacity for 500 children.
Names of the children are now displayed on a memorial column inside the abandoned school.
Discovery of the remains of the 215 children is in addition to the 400 that were listed already.
The discovery of the remains of these children came to light after Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc hired a specialist in ground-penetrating radar to carry out the work.
The Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc chief said their language and culture department oversaw the project to ensure it was done in a culturally appropriate and respectful way.
Chief Rosanne Casimir said community members are still “grappling” with the shock of the news as leadership looks at what steps to take next.
“For one, we need to honour these children,” she told CBC’s Daybreak Kamloops.
In 2008, the federal government set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, on the pattern of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to find out what happened in residential schools.
According to Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the Catholic Church told the commission 50 deaths occurred at the Kamloops institution.
She said there were “massive ongoing problems” with historical records.
Those “held by certain Catholic entities that they will not release” made it very hard to get to the truth despite the truth and reconciliation commission.
Members of First Nations community survivors have said for years that many children went to the school and never returned.
How these children died given the rampant sexual and physical abuse documented in residential schools will never be known.
“There may be reasons why they wouldn’t record the deaths properly and that they weren’t treated with dignity and respect because that was the whole purpose of the residential school,” Ms. Turpel-Lafond said.