Indigenous people across Canada are facing the discovery of the remains of more than 200 Indigenous children, including some as young as three, at the site of a former residential school in the western province of British Columbia this week.
Rosanne Casimir, head of the first nation of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, announced (PDF) on Thursday that the remains of 215 children were found on the grounds of Kamloops Indian Residential School, saying it had been confirmed “an unthinkable loss that was talked about but never documented”.
“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Casimir said.
“Some were only three years old. We sought a way to confirm that knowing from the deepest respect and love for lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children. “
Danielle Morrison, an Anishinaabe lawyer, said Indigenous communities across Canada feel “collective pain and trauma.” “Currently there [are] fires were lit, pipes were lit and ceremonies were held to honor all those lost lives of these precious children, ”he told Al Jazeera.
“This news is a reminder of the violence inflicted by the residential school system and the wounds that bring communities, families and survivors to the present,” the National University of Truth and Reconciliation Center also said. Manitoba. statement.
For more than 100 years, Canadian authorities forcibly separated thousands of Indigenous children from their families and forced them to attend. residential schools, which aimed to break off indigenous family and cultural ties and assimilate children into Canadian white society.
Schools, run by churches from the 1870s to 1996, were full of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, neglect, and other forms of violence, and created a cycle of intergenerational trauma for Indigenous people across Canada.
Founded in 1890 and run by the Catholic Church, Kamloops Indian Residential School eventually became became the largest school in Canada’s residential school system, with 500 children at the peak of enrollment in the early 1950s.
“Residential schools were opened for the sole purpose of removing the Indian from the child,” Morrison said. “It was assimilating the Indians into Canada, and basically, in the words of one of the superintendents of the time, it has to get rid of the ‘Indian problem.’
This is the legacy of Canadian colonialism. Legacy educators today need to be aware, as education has always been used in Canada to hurt students, families and Indigenous communities. To teach ourselves we are wrong. My heart goes out to families.https://t.co/4WOgcLBxDQ
– Alicia Elliott (@WordsandGuitar) May 28, 2021
On Saturday, during an online commemoration, Karen Joseph, director general of the charity Reconciliation Canada, said the discovery at Kamloops was the first time a “whispered knowledge” had become real and that its effect was ‘is being felt across the country, especially by survivors of residential schools.
“Even though those kids we’re talking about right now went to Kamloops Indian Residential School, we know all those kids weren’t from Kamloops. That was the nature of residential schools, it was to take our children away from our homelands, ”said Joseph.
“Mourning is not located in this community and is a huge burden they are carrying right now.”
In 2015, a national truth and reconciliation commission said the Canadian government had committed a “cultural genocide” by forcing more than 150,000 Indigenous children to attend residential schools.
“The question of what happened to their loved ones and where they were rested has haunted families and communities,” the commission said in its report, on children who never returned home. “Throughout the history of Canada’s residential school system, no effort was made to record throughout the system the number of students who died while attending schools each year.”
So far more than 4,100 children have been identified due to illness or in an accident at schools, the commission said, but efforts continue to identify others.
Instead of thoughts and prayers @MinJusticeEn @ CoronaIndígena @Min_IndServ @JustinTrudeau stop fighting children and survivors of First Nations residential schools in the courts and end the murdered and missing genocide of indigenous women. #genocide #IndianPolicy #human rights
– Pam Palmater (@Pam_Palmater) May 29, 2021
The Canadian government formally apologized for the residential school system in 2008 and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the discovery of children’s bodies “is a painful reminder of this dark and shameful chapter in our country’s history.” .
But observers have noted that survivors of residential schools have been forced to sue Ottawa for redress and accountability for what happened to them.
Last year, CBC News reported the government had spent C $ 3.2 million ($ 2.6 million) fighting a group of survivors of St Anne’s Indian Residential School, an abusive Ontario residential school, over a ten-year period .
Others have also pointed out that while residential schools may be closed, Indigenous children continue to be held captive by their families in disproportionate numbers across Canada.
According to census data, more than 52% of children admitted in 2016 were indigenous, while indigenous children only accounted for 7.7% of the country’s total population.
“This is not a historic event,” Joseph said during Saturday’s online event. “This continues today: the loss of our children and the loss of our people for no other reason than the color of our skin.”