The remains of 215 children have been found buried at the site of a former residential school in Canada established more than a century ago to assimilate indigenous peoples into mainstream society, according to a local Aboriginal community.
An expert viewed the human remains last weekend using geo-radar at the site of the former residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia, Aboriginal community Tk “emlups te Secwepemc said in a statement.
“Some were as young as three years old,” Chief Rosanne Casimir said.
He said the children’s deaths, which are unknown, and when they occurred, were never documented by the school’s management, despite the fact that their disappearance had been reported in the past by members of the community.
The preliminary findings of the investigation are expected to be published in a report in June, Casimir said.
Meanwhile, the community is working with the provincial medical examiner and museums to try to shed light on this horrific discovery and find any documentation related to the deaths.
“I am heartbroken,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacted on Twitter. “This is a sad reminder of this dark chapter in our history. My thoughts go out to all those affected by this heartbreaking news.”
Trudeau has made reconciliation with Canadian First Nations one of his priorities since taking office in 2015.
The former residential school, run by the Catholic Church on behalf of the Canadian government, was one of 139 such institutions established in the country in the late 19th century and in existence until the 1990s.
Kamloops Residential School opened in 1890 and had up to 500 students in the 1950s. It was closed in 1969.
Some 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forcibly recruited into these schools, where they were separated from their families, language and culture.
Many were subjected to mistreatment or sexual abuse, and at least 3,200 died there, most of them from tuberculosis, according to the 2015 findings of a national commission of inquiry.
The commission had heard testimony from several Native Americans who said that the misery, alcoholism, domestic violence, and high suicide rates that still plague many of their communities were largely a legacy of the residential school system.
In 1910, the director of the Kamloops institution complained that the Canadian government was not providing sufficient funds to “adequately feed the students,” according to the community press release.
Carolyn Bennett, Minister for Crown-Indian Relations, said the latest discovery “is once again a reminder of the damage that families and survivors suffered and continue to suffer.”
“We remain determined to support families, survivors and communities and to commemorate these lost innocent souls,” he added.
Ottawa formally apologized to the survivors of the schools in 2008 as part of a settlement of 1.9 billion Canadian dollars (1.3 billion euros).
They were victims of a “cultural genocide,” concluded the national commission of inquiry.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism