In Canada, there was a shock when the remains of 215 Aboriginal children were discovered last weekend near a former Indian boarding school in British Columbia. This discovery is a definitive confirmation of the country’s dark history with boarding schools for indigenous children, which many consider a “cultural genocide”.
The remains were discovered in a former boarding school district in Kamloops, in the province of Western British Columbia, Tk’emlúps natives in Secwépemc announced Friday. The school district, the largest former boarding school for Aboriginal children in Canada, was searched using ground-based radar. Some of the deceased children were only three years old.
The investigation was opened due to rumors of children being buried at the site of the former boarding school, which was in use from 1890 to 1978. According to official documents, 51 indigenous children died in the institution during that period. There is more research on the possible remains.
According to Rozan Casimir, head of Tk’emlúps at Secwépemc, these are lost children. It spoke of an “unimaginable loss that was spoken of but not documented by Kamloops Indian Boarding School.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the discovery as “heartbreaking” in response to Twitter. “It is a painful reminder of that dark and embarrassing chapter in our country’s history,” he wrote. Flags on Canadian government buildings at half-mast across the country.
Between 1850 and 1970, Canada pursued an Indigenous boarding school policy, taking children from their families to re-educate them in church-run boarding schools. In total, around 150,000 Indigenous children were housed in around 130 institutions across the country during that period. The goal was to assimilate them into white society – the practice of robbing them of their cultural identity. An estimated 4,000 children have died in boarding schools, and many have experienced psychological, physical, and sometimes sexual abuse. Students were physically punished for speaking their native languages. Indigenous leaders point to decades of politics as the cause of contemporary social problems among Indigenous communities, including alcoholism.
Also read: Boarding school trauma for Indian children
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
In 2008, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government formally apologized to Parliament in Ottawa. This was accompanied by a compensation program for former students. There has also been a roving Truth and Reconciliation Commission to do, among other things, record and acknowledge the painful history of the politics, which has been kept secret for years. According to that commission’s final report, 3,200 indigenous deaths were recorded in Indigenous boarding schools.
“This raises the issue of boarding schools, and with it the wounds of the legacy of genocide against indigenous peoples,” said Terje Teje, Regional President of the First National Assembly of Nations.
The remains that have been found have not been excavated. It is unclear if and when they will be returned to their communities of origin. A comprehensive report of the research results is still under preparation. Lisa La Pointe, British Columbia’s chief investigator, said she has been working with Tk’emlúps at Secwépemc on the next steps. “Our thoughts go to anyone in mourning,” she said.
A copy of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on May 31, 2021
A copy of this article also appeared in the NRC on the morning of May 31, 2021