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From 1863 to 1998, more than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and taken to state boarding schools in Canada.
These government-run colleges, and operated largely by the Catholic Church, were part of the policy to assimilate indigenous children.
Minors were not allowed to speak their language or practice their culture and many were mistreated and abused.
Now the terrifying discovery of the remains of 215 children who were students of one of those boarding schools, the Kamloops Indian Residential School it has again focused on the abuses committed in these institutions.
Christian churches were essential in the founding and operation of these types of schools.
The Catholic Church, in particular, was responsible for operate up to 70% of the 130 internees, according to the Indigenous Residential School Survivors Society.
The children were forced to abandon their native languages, speak English or French and convert to Christianity.
Joseph Maud was one of those children. In 1966, at the age of five, he entered the Pine Creek boarding school in Manitoba.
Students were expected to speak English or French, but Maud only spoke her native Ojibwa.
If students spoke their own language, their ears were pulled and their mouths washed with soap, Maud told the BBC in 2015, when a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was released.
“But the biggest pain was being separated from my parents, cousins and uncles and aunts,” Maud told the BBC.
The report described the government-led policy as “cultural genocide.”
“These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aborigines as distinct peoples and assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will,” the report’s summary reads.
“The Canadian government followed this policy of cultural genocide because it wanted to shed its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control of their lands and resources.”
Bad conditions and abuse
The report also detailed radical failures in the care and safety of these children, with the complicity of the Church and the government.
Students were often housed in poorly constructed buildings with little heating and unsanitary, according to the report. Many lacked access to trained medical personnel.
With the work of the CVR it was estimated that some 6,000 children had died while they were in boarding schools. Their bodies rarely returned home and many were buried in nameless graves.
The Missing Children Project documents the deaths and burial sites of children and to date more than 4,100 children have been identified.
But many more suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Maud told the BBC in 2015 that she had to kneel on the concrete floor of the chapel, because the nuns told her that “that’s the only way God listens to you.”
“I was crying when I got down on my knees, and I was thinking, ‘When is this going to end? Somebody help me.
He remembered that when he wet the bed, the nun in charge of his bedroom rubbed his face with her own urine.
“It was very degrading, humiliating. Because I was sleeping in a bedroom with 40 other children,” he said.
In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the system.
El find at the Kamloops school
The Kamloops school, which operated between 1890 and 1969, was the largest of this type of school system, known as the Indigenous Residences School System.
Under Catholic administration, it came to have up to 500 students when it peaked in the 1950s.
The discovery at the end of last May of the remains of at least 215 indigenous children in a mass grave at this school has caused outrage throughout the country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the find a “painful reminder” of a “shameful chapter in our country’s history.”
Trudeau has also urged the Catholic Church to “take responsibility” for your role in indigenous residential schools.
The central government took over the administration of the school in 1969, using it as a residence for local students until 1978, when it was closed.
“We need to have the truth before we can talk about justice, healing and reconciliation,” Trudeau said.
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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.