Remains of 215 children found buried at former B.C. residential school, First Nation says

Preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School have uncovered the remains of 215 children buried at the site, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said Thursday.

They said the remains were confirmed last weekend near the city of Kamloops, in B.C.’s southern Interior. 

In a statement, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc say they hired a specialist in ground-penetrating radar to carry out the work, and that their language and culture department oversaw the project to ensure it was done in a culturally appropriate and respectful way. The release did not specify the company or individual involved, or how the work was completed. 

“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said in the statement.

“Some were as young as three years old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children.” 

Casimir told CBC that the findings are “preliminary” and a report will be provided by the specialist next month.

Residential school in operation until 1969

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc said they are taking the “necessary steps,” including working with the BC Coroners Service, contacting the students’ home communities, protecting the remains and working with museums to find records of these deaths.

CBC has contacted the coroner for more details, but has not heard back.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was in operation from 1890 to 1969, when the federal government took over administration from the Catholic Church to operate it as a residence for a day school, until closing in 1978.

The main administrative building of the Kamloops Indian Residential School is pictured in 1970. (Department of Citizenship and Immigration- Information Division / Library and Archives Canada)

Up to 500 students would have been registered at the school, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). Those children would have come from First Nations communities across B.C. and beyond. 

“This is the beginning but, given the nature of this news, we felt it important to share immediately. At this time, we have more questions than answers. We look forward to providing updates as they become available,” Casimir said. 

‘No words’ to describe grief: UBCIC

The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) said the announcement Thursday would deeply affect Indigenous people in B.C. and across the country.

“That this situation exists is sadly not a surprise and illustrates the damaging and lasting impacts that the residential school system continues to have on First Nations people, their families and communities,” FNHA CEO Richard Jock wrote in a statement.

On Friday, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) said it mourned alongside the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc.

“There are no words to express the deep mourning that we feel as First Nations people, and as survivors, when we hear an announcement like this,” wrote Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the UBCIC.

“Today we honour the lives of those children, and hold prayers that they, and their families, may finally be at peace.”

It is estimated more than 150,000 children attended residential schools in Canada from the 1830s until the last school closed in 1996.

Many kids never returned home from schools

The NCTR said about 4,100 children who died at the schools are identified in death records, by name or unnamed.

The exact number of children who died remains unknown, but the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said large numbers of Indigenous children who were sent to residential schools never returned home.

Federal Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller said in a tweet Thursday he had been in touch with Casimir to offer his support.

Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett said in a tweet that the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available for former residential school students and others looking for support. It can be utilized by calling 1-866-925-4419.

The FNHA said immediate supports for Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation have been identified through its Interior health team, and its teams are on standby to support further needs.

The agency said some of the supports currently available also include the KUU-US Crisis Line (1-800-588-8717), Tsow-Tun-Le-Lum Society and the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society.

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