The remains of 215 children have been found buried on the site of what was once Canada’s most prominent indigenous residential school.
According to First Nation Cheif Rosanne Casimir, remains were confirmed last week with the help of ground-penetrating radar. The officials said more bodies could be found in the coming days after searching on the school grounds.
“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Casimir added. She further said, “The band is still surveying with the radar. We are expecting a full report by mid-June, and it will be shared publicly.”
Casimir said the band is looking into what it can do to send back the remains to their country and honor the children’s and the families impacted.
Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said on Twitter that “while it is not new to find graves at former residential schools in Canada, it’s always crushing to have that chapter’s wounds exposed.”
From 1883 to 1996, nearly 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families, often by force, and sent to government-funded church schools in an attempt to assimilate them. They were mentally and physically harassed by the school authorities and forced not to speak their Indigenous languages and practice their traditions.
Trudeau tweeted, “It is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history. I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also commented on Twitter, saying that discovering the remains “breaks my heart.”
British Columbia Premier John Horgan said he was “horrified and heartbroken” to learn of the discovery, calling it a tragedy of “unimaginable proportions” that highlights the violence and consequences of the residential school system.
On Friday, Terry Teege, First Nation regional chief for British Colombia, said, “This resurfaces the issue of residential schools and the wounds from this legacy of genocide towards Indigenous people.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concluded in its 2015 report that what happened at the school constituted “cultural genocide.” The commission, in its description, said more than 3,200 students died at the school during that time. It has since revised that number up to more than 4,100 children.
The students mainly died due to tuberculosis. Others were killed in accidents, in fires, and by suicide.
The commission reported In 1927, a medical officer visited the school. He found that the recreation room for younger boys mainly was unsanitary and had contributed to “numerous infections, colds, bronchitis, and pneumonia during the past winter.”
The commission, in its report, also cited the statement of George Manuel, a student at the school in the 1920s. He recalled the incidents of being forced to speak English. He also stated, “Every Indian student smelled of hunger.”
The Canadian government in 2008 apologized in parliament and admitted that physical and sexual abuse in the school was rampant.