The remains of 215 Indigenous children have been found on the property of a former residential school in Western Canada, according to a preliminary investigation.
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Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said Friday that ground-penetrating radar discovered the remains near the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which operated in southern British Columbia from 1890 to 1969, CBC reported.
The Canadian government took over the administration of the Catholic Church to operate the school as a residence for a day school until it closed in 1978, the news agency reported.
“It’s a harsh reality and it’s our truth, it’s our story,” Casimir said at a press conference. “And that’s something we’ve always had to fight to prove. For me, it’s always been a horrible, horrible story.
According to the CBC, representatives of the First Nations did not specify the company or the person involved, or how the work was carried out.
Some of the foundlings were only 3 years old, according to CBC. Casimir told the news agency that the findings are “preliminary” and that a report will be provided by the specialist next month.
Casimir said the discovery was made last week at the location where the school once stood.
“When I arrived, I was brought back. I was shocked, ”Casimir told CTV News. “When I was told they were children, our children, from our community. … It was devastating.
Beginning in the 19th century, Canada had a residential school system – mostly run by churches – that Indigenous children were required to attend, The New York Times reported. The children were taken from their families and many never returned home, the newspaper said.
Families were given vague explanations or no explanation at all, The Times reported.
School systems declined in the 1970s and the last school closed in 1996, the newspaper reported.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report on residential schools more than five years ago, according to the Canadian Press. The nearly 4,000-page account details the abuse of indigenous children in institutions, the news agency reported. At least 3,200 children have died from abuse and neglect.
In a statement to CBC, Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner for British Columbia, said the coroners’ service was alerted to the discovery on Thursday.
“We are at the start of the information gathering process and will continue to work with Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and others as this sensitive work progresses,” said Lapointe. “We recognize the tragic and heartbreaking devastation that Canada’s residential school system has inflicted on so many people, and our hearts go out to all who mourn today.
There have been rumors of anonymous graves in schools for years, the Times reported. If the findings of the preliminary report are confirmed, it will be the first time that a major burial site has been discovered, according to the newspaper.
Kamloops was once Canada’s largest residential school, with around 500 students at its peak, the Times reported.
Casimir said the search for remains in Kamloops began in the early 2000s, the newspaper reported.
“There had to be more to the story,” Casimir said. “It’s about bringing in cutting edge technology today to be able to look below the surface of the ground and confirm some of the stories that have been told once.”
The radar sweep is underway, she said.
“The loss of 215 children found in residential school is a national tragedy,” Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indian Nations of Saskatchewan said in a statement.
The office of Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister responsible for Indigenous relations, said in a statement that “this discovery reflects a dark and painful chapter in our country’s history.”
His ministry and health officials in British Columbia will set up support services for the First Nation, the Times reported.
“We don’t want this to be hidden. We want this to be resolved, we want people to know that this story is real, that the loss of the children is real, ”Casimir told CTV News. “For our community, our people, our nation, we just want everyone to recognize the history that is there.”
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