Indigenous leaders across B.C. are voicing their grief, sadness and support after Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir stated the buried remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School were confirmed with the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist on the weekend (May 22).
“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” stated Casimir, who said the discovery is an unthinkable loss. “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.”
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the home community of the Kamloops Indian Residential School which was the largest school in the Indian Affairs residential school system.
In a news release issued May 27, Casimir said the deaths were spoken about but never documented. The work was undertaken by the C7élksten̓ s re Secwépemc ne Ck̓ úl̓ tens ell ne Xqwelténs (Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Language and Culture Department) with ceremonial Knowledge Keepers who ensured that the work was conducted respectfully in light of the serious nature of the investigation with cultural protocols being upheld.
“Given that these lost loved ones are buried within the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community, and with all community members still grappling with the effects of residential school, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief and Council first reached out to their community members to make them aware of the situation, albeit that it is still developing,” stated the new release.
“Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc will continue to work with the ground penetrating radar specialist to complete the survey of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School grounds. In undertaking this current investigation, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief and Council would like to acknowledge the preliminary work that was carried out in the early 2000’s. With access to the latest technology, the true accounting of the missing students will hopefully bring some peace and closure to those lives lost and their home communities.”
Casimir stated they were thankful for the Pathway to Healing grant they received to undertake the important work.
“Given the size of the school, with up to 500 students registered and attending at any one time, we understand that this confirmed loss affects First Nations communities across British Columbia and beyond. We wish to ensure that our community members, as well as all home communities for the children who attended are duly informed. 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.”
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is following the necessary steps regarding these preliminary findings. This includes:
• Engaging with the coroner.
• Reaching out to the home communities who had children who attended the Kamloops Indian
• Taking measures to ensure that the locations of the remains are protected.
• The Secwépemc Museum Archivist is working with the Royal British Columbia Museum, amongst others, to seek out any existing records of these deaths.
The Heritage Park is closed to the public and no one will be permitted on site for the duration
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) also issued a statment, noting they mourn with the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc, and with all of the families of the children lost to the Kamloops Indian Residential School, upon hearing the announcement by Tk’emlúps that the remains of children had been found buried on the grounds of the former residential school.
“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. 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,” stated Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC President.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc expect to complete preliminary findings by mid-June and noted they will be providing updates as they become available.
The Kamloops Industrial School (later known as the Kamloops Indian Residential School) was opened, under Roman Catholic administration, in 1890. It became the largest school in the Indian Affairs residential school system. Enrolment peaked in the early 1950s at 500. In 1910, the principal said that the government did not provide enough money to properly feed the students. In 1924, a portion of the school was destroyed by fire. In 1969, the federal government took over the administration of the school, which no longer provided any classes and operated it as residence for students attending local day schools until 1978, when the residence was closed.
The B.C. society of Indian Residential School Survivors is offering toll-free telephone support for survivors at 1-800-721-0066.