Remains from hundreds of children have been found at a long-since closed Canadian residential school, an indigenous group said Thursday. The school was one of many places where the Canadian government took indigenous children who had been removed from their families for forced assimilation.
The remains were detected near the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which opened in 1890, reports the Toronto Star. Although no remains have been excavated, a ground-penetrating radar specialist helped confirm the remains of 215 children by the school.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation responded in a statement Thursday, saying: “Given the size of the school, with up to 500 students registered and attending at any one time, we understand that this confirmed loss affects First Nations communities across British Columbia and beyond.”
The age of the children isn’t clear, but Casimir said some were as young as three, reports the Toronto Star.
Kamloops, which was operated by the Catholic Church and then by the state in its final years, was one of many residential schools the Canadian government forced indigenous children to attend, reports The Associated Press. The schools took in more than 150,000 kids, and as many as 6,000 of them died, including an estimated thousands from abuse or neglect.
“The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a statement. “I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you.”
The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history. I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you. https://t.co/ZUfDRyAfET
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) May 28, 2021
The Canadian government, in a 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report, determined many of the children who attended these schools were lonely, undernourished, and overworked. “For the students, education and technical training too often gave way to the drudgery of doing the chores necessary to make the schools self-sustaining. Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers,” reads the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.
The schooling system, the government determined in the report, was for much of its existence “an education system in name only” and amounted to “cultural genocide.”
“States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next,” reads the preface to the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. “In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.”
After the Catholic Church ceased operating Kamloops in the 1960s, the Canadian government briefly ran it as a day school until 1978. Gordon’s Indian Residential School, the last of the Canadian residential schools for indigenous children, closed permanently in 1996.
The process of surveying the grounds by Kamloops is ongoing, and a report will likely be completed in June. Casimir said Friday that more remains may be found as well, according to The Associated Press.
This article has been revised for clarity.