The following is a statement submitted by the Community Justice Centre regarding the discovery of the burial of 215 children at the site of Kamloops Residential School:
Another dark chapter in Canada’s historic and current mistreatment of Indigenous People has been revealed by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. The discovery of the burial of 215 children at the site of the Kamloops Residential School again calls Canada to account for its Residential Schools Policy and the horrific consequences that were visited upon children who were taken from their homes and families and placed in the care of this, and other Residential Schools, established by the Government of Canada and operated by a number of Christian churches.
An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were removed from their families, homes, languages and lands. These schools were part of Canada’s official policy which aimed to eliminate Indigenous cultures and through assimilation cause Indigenous Peoples to cease to exist.
The schools were routinely overcrowded, underfunded, and rife with disease, and many children, weakened by malnutrition, did not survive. Mortality rates in some schools at times were in excess of 60%. The system became notorious for a high rate of physical and sexual abuse, as well. These conditions and the abuses happening within the schools were documented at various times in government reports (e.g., the 1907 Bryce report), and yet nothing was done.
In the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Recommendations 71 – 76 (Missing Children and Burial Information) speak directly to the treatment of Indigenous children in these schools. The Calls to Action in this area speak to the demands for release of information from government records concerning the number of children who died in the care of the Residential Schools; the return of the children’s remains to their home communities for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, and reburial; and for the parties engaged in the work of documenting, maintaining, commemorating, and protecting residential school cemeteries to adopt strategies that are led by the First Nations.
There are so many elements which need to be fully addressed in responding to this tragedy, and the calls for healing fail to acknowledge the painful journeys which must be undergone before that will be possible. This is the time for government, settlers, the churches, and First Nations to work together, under Indigenous leadership, to do the tasks that can lead to the ending of individual and systemic racism against the indigenous Peoples of Canada. The work will certainly uncover many more such common graves of the estimated 6,000 (perhaps more) Indigenous children who died in the Residential School System in our country. We, as a country, must step up and be accountable for what we have done in the past.
The Community Justice Centre urges continuing support for the Residential School survivors, the descendants of those survivors, and the First Nations communities, during this period of grieving and calls for genuine action to redress these harms.