The news was announced last week by Rosanne Casimir, chief of the Tk’emlups to Secwepemc tribe in the small town of Kamloops in the mountainous region of western Canada. The remains were found with a special radar, which can image the bottom several meters deep. The youngest victim would have been 3 years old.
Casimir said the investigation will continue until June. It must then become clear whether the figures are correct and whether they are indeed unknown deaths.
It was already known that dozens of children have died at Kamloops Indian Residential School over the past century. In front of the building, which operated between 1890 and 1977 and housed some five hundred children at the top, there is a monument with 65 names of deceased students. But in addition there were dozens of “missing persons”, whose school administration always told the family that they had fled.
“It’s a harsh reality, but it’s our truth, our story,” Casimir said at a press conference. “And that’s something we’ve always had to fight to prove.”
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has so far documented 4,100 children who died in residential schools in Canada. However, there were still rumors of anonymous mass graves. One of them seems to have been found, in the field at a bend in the river, where the tribe has built a small park and a stadium for the powwows, an annual spiritual dance.
The tribe announced memorial services for the next three nights, with sacred fires and drums. Many flowers have been placed on the monument in recent days.
In 2008, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of Canada for the residential school system, where Indigenous children were forced to join the Western ranks with neglect, malnutrition and abuse (as s ‘is produced in the United States and Australia, for example). They were not allowed to speak their own language and had to forget their own religion and customs. The Reconciliation Commission spoke in a 2015 report of “cultural genocide”.
The system, which began in 1883, was explicitly intended to solve the “Native American problem.” “If we want to do something against the Indian, we have to catch it very early on,” the adviser wrote in a report to the government. School became compulsory from 1920. In total, it is estimated that 150,000 indigenous children attended schools. The last one closed in 1997.
Since a court ruling in 2007, a total of 3.2 billion Canadian dollars (around 2.2 billion euros) in compensation has been paid to 28,000 former students, an average of around 80,000 euros per nobody.
The Catholic Church, a partner in colonial Christianization for centuries, unlike other Christian accomplices, has never apologized for these practices. However, Archbishop Michael Miller of the Diocese of Vancouver said in a statement that “the pain of this news reminds us that we must bring to light every tragic situation that has occurred in the residential schools run by the Church.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday the news had “broken his heart.” He called it a “reminder of this black and shameful chapter in our national history.”
Relatives now demand more action and less talk. The 2015 Reconciliation Commission report calls for structural funding for centers to alleviate physical, mental and spiritual pain caused by boarding schools.