Editor’s note: This article contains some graphic and disturbing details about experiences at residential schools in B.C. and may be upsetting to some readers.
The remains of 215 children have been found buried on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation says in a news release that the remains were confirmed last weekend with the help of a ground-penetrating radar specialist.
Casimir calls the discovery an “unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”
She says it’s believed the deaths are undocumented, although a local museum archivist is working with the Royal British Columbia Museum to see if any records of the deaths can be found.
She says the children, some as young as three and were students at the school, once the largest in Canada’s residential school system.
The chief says work to identify the site was led by the First Nation’s language and cultural department alongside ceremonial knowledge keepers, who made sure the work was done was in line with cultural protocols.
Casimir says the leadership of the Tk’emlups community “acknowledges their responsibility to caretake for these lost children.”
Access to the latest technology allows for a true accounting of the missing children and will hopefully bring some peace and closure to those lives lost, she says in the release on Thursday.
Casimir says band officials are informing community members and surrounding communities that had children who attended the school.
“This is the beginning but, given the nature of this news, we felt it important to share immediately,” she says.
The school operated between 1890 and 1969. The federal government took over the operation from the church to operate as a day school until it closed in 1978.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report on residential schools more than five years ago. The nearly 4,000-page account details the harsh mistreatment inflicted on Indigenous children at the institutions, where at least 3,200 children died amid abuse and neglect.