- Holly Honderich
- BBC News, Washington
The discovery last week of the remains of at least 215 indigenous children, students of Canada’s largest boarding school, has sparked outrage across the country, demanding more searches for nameless graves. This is what we know so far.
The ad featured a small sample of an ongoing investigation by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc tribe into the deaths of boarding school students.
These government-run colleges were part of the policy to achieve assimilate indigenous children and destroy native cultures and languages.
What do we know about the first findings?
Last week, the chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc tribe, Rosanne Casimir, announced that the remains of 215 children near the city of Kamloops in southern British Columbia.
Some of the remains are believed to be of children just 3 years.
They had all been students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, the largest institution of its kind in the boarding school system from Canada.
The discovery of the remains had been confirmed days earlier with the help of ground-penetrating radar technology, Casimir said.
The discovery was made thanks to preliminary work to identify burial sites carried out in the early 2000s.
The full report of the remains found is due in mid-June and the preliminary findings may be subject to review. Indigenous leaders have said the number of 215 will rise.
“Sadly, we know that many more children are missing,” Casimir said in a statement last week.
Thousands of children died in boarding schools and their bodies rarely came home. Many were buried in nameless graves.
Until today there is no accurate data on the number of children who died, the circumstances of their deaths or where they are buried. Efforts like those of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc nation are helping to rebuild part of that history.
The Kamloops school, which operated between 1890 and 1969, is known to have capacity for 500 indigenous students, many of whom were sent to live there hundreds of miles from their families.
Between 1969 and 1978, it was used as a home for students attending local day schools.
From the remains found, it is believed that 50 children have already been identifiedsaid Stephanie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation. The deaths occurred from 1900 to 1971.
But of the other 165, no records available to have their identities.
The children “ended up in common graves,” Scott said. “No marks, as strangers.”
The findings sparked anger across Canada, where many held impromptu vigils and memorials across the country.
But for indigenous leaders, the discovery was not unexpected.
“The outrage and surprise of the general public is welcome, without question,” said National Head of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde. “But the report is not surprising.”
“The survivors They’ve been saying this for years and years, but nobody believed them, “he said.
What were the boarding schools like?
The Kamloops boarding school was one of more than 130 similar ones. They were open throughout Canada between 1874 and 1996.
As the axis of the government policy of forced assimilation, some 150,000 children of the native nations, mainly the Intuit and Métis ethnic groups, they were separated from their families during that period and placed in state boarding schools.
When attendance became mandatory in the 1920s, parents faced the threat of imprisonment if they did not send them.
Politics let a trauma on generations whole of indigenous children, who were forced to abandon their native languages, speak English or French, and convert to Christianity.
Christian churches were essential in the founding and operation of the schools. Church catolic in particular was responsible for operating until 70% of the internees, according to the Indigenous Residential School Survivors Society.
“Our government’s policy was to get rid of the indigenous in the child,” said Bellegarde. “It was a breakdown of oneself, a breakdown of family, community and nation.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, published in 2015, described the government-led policy as a cultural genocide.
In its 4,000 pages, it details radical failures in the care and safety of these children, with the complicity of the Church and the government.
“Officials, the Church and schools were aware of these failures and their impact on the health of students,” he says.
Students were often housed in poorly constructed, poorly heated and unsanitary buildings, according to the report. Many lacked access to trained medical personnel and were subjected to severe and often abusive punishment.
The appalling health conditions, according to the report, came largely from the government’s determination to cut costs.
“School administrations argued with the government about who was going to pay for student funerals,” Scott said.
“They would do it all at minimal cost,” records of the conversations show.
What do we know about the search for the missing?
The CVR investigation found that thousands of indigenous children sent to boarding schools they never came home.
The physical and sexual abuse led some to flee. Others died from illness or accidents amid negligence.
As early as 1945, the mortality rate of children in boarding schools was almost five times greater than other Canadian students.
“Survivors spoke of children suddenly disappearing. Some spoke of children disappearing in mass cemeteries,” TRC President Murray Sinclair said in a statement Wednesday.
Other survivors spoke of priests begotten babies, taken from their mothers at birth and thrown into furnaces, he noted.
In 2015, an estimated 6,000 children had died while in boarding schools. So far, more than 4,100 minors have been identified.
“We know that there are many Kamloops-like locations that will come to light in the future,” Sinclair said this week. “We have to start preparing for that.”
What has been done?
In 2015, the CVR issued 94 recommendations, including six on missing children and cemeteries. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to “fully implement” all of them.
- According to a count by public broadcaster CBC, 10 have been completed, 64 are in progress and 20 have not started.
- The TRC, suspended in 2009, fought for the issue of clandestine cemeteries to be included in its mandate.
- In 2019, the government spent about $ 28 million over three years to develop and maintain a student death registry and establish an online registry of boarding school cemeteries.
- So far, the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation says it has received only a fraction of that money.
What was the answer?
This week, Trudeau said he was “appalled” by the legacy of Canada’s boarding schools and promised “concrete actions”, but did not give many details.
“Trudeau has been willing to move this forward, he has a lot of talk, but we really need to see action,” Scott said.
He along with Bellegarde and other indigenous leaders have lobbied the government for a thorough investigation of the 130 former internees to find graves with no names.
These children have been “scrapped,” Chief Bellegarde said. “That is not acceptable.”
News of the discovery has also sparked a global response, prompting pronouncements by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch.
Preliminary findings have also renewed demands for an apology from the Catholic Church, one of the recommendations of the CVR report.
In 2017, Trudeau asked Pope Francis to apologize for the Church’s role in running Canada’s boarding schools, but the Vatican has declined to do so.
Other churches issued formal apologies in the 1980s and 1990s.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.