Indigenous people are in shock and Canadians are reeling after a grim discovery cast a harsh light on the North American country’s bloody history of native genocide.
On Thursday, the chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Indigenous community confirmed that it had found the remains of 215 children buried in a mass grave at a state-run boarding school, including some as young as three.
The discovery of the mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School offers a sobering confirmation of why such a large number of Indigenous children seized from their homes by Canadian authorities never made it back home – validating some of the worst fears of Tk’emlúps community members as to why their lost loved ones seemingly disappeared.
“It’s a harsh reality and it’s our truth, it’s our history,” said Chief Rosanne Casimir said at a news conference, reports New York Times. “And it’s something that we’ve always had to fight to prove. To me, it’s always been a horrible, horrible history.”
Chief Casimir said that there was always “a knowing” about the disturbing history at boarding schools like the Kamloops Indian Residential School and that proof finally came this past weekend thanks to ground-penetrating radar technology.
The school operated from 1890 to the late 1970s, with enrollment peaking at around 500 during the 1950s. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has confirmed that large amounts of Indigenous children fled the schools or died there, their whereabouts unknown. Former students have testified to the horrific sexual, mental and physical abuse they suffered while enrolled at the schols.
The Tk’emlúps Heritage Park where the school was located has now been closed as crews scour the area for more possible remains.
Children as young as three were students at the school, which was once the largest in Canada’s boarding schools for First Nations children.
It is believed that the deaths were swept under the rug and never documented, although Indigenous scholars are working with the Royal British Columbia Museum to find any possible records that may exist.
Chief Casimir has vowed that the Tk’emlups community would take full responsibility to do justice to the hundreds of “lost children” and their families.
“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,” Chief Casimir said in a statement.
Work to identify the site began in the early 2000s and was led by Indigenous authorities in tandem with ceremonial Knowledge Keepers to ensure that cultural protocols were respected. State-of-the-art radar technology used to identify potential mass graves led to the recent breakthrough.
“With access to the latest technology, the true accounting of the missing students will hopefully bring some peace and closure to those lives lost and their home communities,” Casimir noted.
“At this time we have more questions than answers,” Casimir added.
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