Canada's Residential School Horror
In May 2021, preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, uncovered the remains of 215 children clandestinely buried on the site.
According to the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, (Chief) Rosanne Casimir the missing children are undocumented deaths with some as young as three years old. Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc said they are working with the Coroners Service, contacting the students' home communities, protecting the remains, working with museums to find records of these deaths, and that they will provide an appropriate burial for the children's remains.
In Canada, the Indian residential school system was a network of boarding schools set up to educate and subjugate Indigenous peoples.
Two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their home and families to erase their traditions and cultures and to ultimately assimilate them.
It is estimated more than 150,000 children attended residential schools in Canada from the 1830s to 1996. The residential school network was funded by the Canadian government's Department of Indian Affairs and administered by various churches.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School was created by the Catholic Church. The Church ran the school from 1890 to 1969, when the federal government took over administration until ultimately closing it in 1978. Most of the children who attended the Catholic-operated Residential School would have been from First Nations communities across B.C. and beyond.
According to Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was set up in 2008 to find out what happened in residential schools was told of at least 50 deaths that had occurred at the Kamloops institution while the Catholic Chruch ran the school. She said, "massive ongoing problems" with historical records, including those "held by certain Catholic entities that they refuse to release" have made abuses and deaths hard to investigate.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation estimates about 4,100 children died at the residential schools, based on death records, but the true total is likely much higher. There are many questions about how these children died given the extensive history of child rape and physical abuse documented in residential schools and committed by the Catholic Church worldwide. Indigenous community survivors of the residential schools have said for years that many children went to the schools and never returned. Others say that they heard constant rumors when they were younger of children being buried at the back of the schools.
Indigenous leaders and experts are calling on Canada's government to declare sites of former residential schools as protected areas to allow a full investigation. They are also calling on the government to fund the use of GPR equipment at former residential school sites across the country. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) called on the government to create an online registry of residential school burials, and to work with impacted groups to develop a plan for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, and commemoration of clandestine burial sites.
The Canadian government lowered flags at half-mast to honor the 215 children found in B.C. and promised to provide concrete support for survivors of residential schools and indigenous peoples. The Catholic Church pledged to, "do whatever we can to heal that suffering" in a public statement. It is unclear what sort of assistance if any the Catholic Church is pledging to provide.
Community organizers across Canada have held vigils over the weekend of May 28th through the 30th, with more planned throughout the week, to honour the 215 children found in B.C., and call for action to search for other grave sights nationwide. At several vigils, 215 shoes were set out to represent each child. The 215 shoes were placed on government build steps and also on Catholic Church steps.
While the Canadian government has taken steps towards Truth and Reconciliation, the Catholic Church is far behind facing justice and a reckoning for its own crimes which seemingly repeat not only in Canada but worldwide.