Leaders of the First Nations Summit (FNS) say the discovery of the remains of more than 200 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School is further proof of the genocide resulting from the system.
On Thursday, May 27, The Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed that the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School have been found on the reserve using ground-penetrating radar.
Chief Rosanne Casimir called the discovery an “unthinkable loss that was spoken about, but never documented by the Kamloops Indian Residential School,” which was the largest school in the country’s Indian Affairs residential school system.
Cheryl Casimer of the FNS political executive said it is unconscionable to realize 215 lives were taken, with bodies then hidden in unmarked graves.
“This discovery is yet another blight on Canada’s history and further proof of the genocide resulting from the horrific Indian residential school system,” she said.
In December 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report concluded the residential school system amounted to cultural genocide.
Added FNS political executive member Lydia Hwitsum: “The Indian residential school system was created to strip our people of every element of our cultures and assimilate us into Canadian society. We all know the devastating impacts these horrific institutions have had and continue to have on our communities to this very day, as a result of the physical and emotional abuses that took place. With the discovery of the remains of these children at one school site, we have to wonder how many children across Canada paid the ultimate price of losing their lives while attending one of these dreadful schools.”
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs also issued statements on the discovery.
“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,”said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the UBCIC’s president.
“These were children — all belonging to a family and community and a nation — who were forcibly stolen from their homes under the authority of the Canadian government and never returned. We call upon Canada, and all of those who call yourselves Canadians, to witness and recognize the truth of our collective history. This is the reality of the genocide that was, and is, inflicted upon us as Indigenous peoples by the colonial state. Today we honour the lives of those children and hold prayers that they, and their families, may finally be at peace.”
Neskonlith Indian Band Chief Judy Wilson, who is the UBCIC’s secretary-treasurer, said the Secwépemc people are grieving their relatives.
“Though we knew that many children never returned home, and their families were left without answers, this confirmation brings a particular heaviness to our hearts and our spirits all throughout Secwépemculecw,” Wilson said.
“I hold my hands up to Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir and to the people of Tk’emlups for undertaking this difficult, but critical work to identify and honour each of the spirits who were lost to this institution of state-sanctioned genocide, and the ongoing work to bring closure and healing to their families and communities. We stand beside you in prayer and in honouring each and every one of them.”
The FNS said it recognizes news of the discovery could cause trauma for Indian residential school survivors and their families.The Indian Residential School Society (IRSSS) 24-hour support line is 1-800-721-0066. The society’s website is at www.irsss.ca.