A mass grave has been found in Canada containing the remains of 215 children, in a boarding school set up by British colonists to bring together the indigenous Indians and change their identity.
Indigenous children were attending school, Kamloops Indian Residential, a boarding school in British Columbia, which closed permanently in 1978.
Rosanne Casimir, president of the First Nation Group (Tekalops Shuswab), announced the discovery of the mass grave on Thursday.
The First Nation group represents one of the largest remaining ethnic groups of the ancient Indian Chuswab nation, which inhabited British Columbia before its colonization.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was a “painful reminder” of “a shameful chapter in our country’s history”.
The First Nation Group is working with museum professionals and the coroner’s office to determine the causes and timing of children’s deaths, which are still unknown.
Casimir, head of the group in Kamloops, British Columbia, said the initial finding of the tomb excavation represented an unimaginable loss that was never documented by school administrators.
Residential schools in Canada were mandatory boarding schools run by government and religious authorities during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the aim of controlling indigenous youth and forcibly changing their beliefs and ideas.
One school, Kamloops Indian Residential, is the largest in this educational system. Opened under Roman Catholic management in 1890, the school had up to 500 students when enrollment peaked in the 1950s.
The central government took over the management of the school in 1969, and designated it as a residence for local students until its closure in 1978.
What do we know about the remains of the disciples?
The First Nation group announced that the remains were found with the help of a radar device that detects what is underground during a special survey of the school.
“As far as we know, these children were missing and represent undocumented deaths,” Rosanne Casimir said. Some of them were no more than three years old.
“We looked for a way to ascertain what happened to them, out of deep respect and love for these missing children and their families, and understanding that Kamloops is the last resting place for these children.”
The Indian tribe, who still live in the area, said they have reached out to the local communities whose children are enrolled in school. They expected to have preliminary results by mid-June.
“We are still at an early stage in the information gathering process,” British Columbia’s chief investigative officer, Lisa Lapointe, told CBC Canada.
What are the reactions to what happened?
The main reaction was shock, sadness and regret.
“The news of human remains found at the former Kamloops Boarding School breaks my heart,” Trudeau wrote in a tweet.
Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Relations, Caroline Bennett, said the boarding schools were part of a “shameful” colonial policy. She said the government was committed to “commemorating innocent lives lost”.
Terry Tigi, the regional president of the First Nations Association of British Columbia, described finding such cemetery sites as a “necessary work” but would renew feelings of “sadness and loss” for the area’s communities.
These views were adopted by other Indigenous groups, including the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).
“The existence of this situation is unfortunately not surprising and illustrates the harmful and lasting effects that the boarding school system continues to have on First Nations people, their families and their communities,” Richard Gawke, the authority’s chief executive, wrote in a statement.
What were the boarding schools doing?
From 1863 to 1998, more than 150,000 indigenous children were transferred to these schools away from their families.
Children were often not allowed to speak their native language or practice their culture, and many were mistreated and abused.
A commission launched in 2008 to document the effects of this system found that large numbers of Indigenous children never returned to their local communities.
The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Report said the policy amounted to “cultural genocide”.
In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the system.
The Missing Children Project documents cases of death and burial of children who died while attending school. So far, it has been found that more than 4,100 children have died while attending a boarding school, according to the report.