Dozens of pairs of shoes and toys and teddy bears were placed on the Chilliwack Law Court steps on May 31, 2021 in support of the 215 bodies of children found last week in an unmarked grave at the site of an old Kamloops residential school. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

Dozens of pairs of shoes and toys and teddy bears were placed on the Chilliwack Law Court steps on May 31, 2021 in support of the 215 bodies of children found last week in an unmarked grave at the site of an old Kamloops residential school. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

Stó:lō historian has heard horrible tales of abuse at residential schools

Children whipped publicly, some even kidnapped by American miners

Warning: The following story contains details some readers may find distressing.

When Keith Carlson heard about the discovery of 215 childrens’ graves on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, his heart broke. But sadly, he wasn’t surprised.

“The fact that there were 215 graves, and maybe more, surprised me in the sense that it is bigger than I would have expected,” Carlson said.

As a historian who has worked alongside the Stó:lō people since 1992, Carlson has heard horrible tales about the abuses suffered by Indigenous children at residential schools.

“An elder from Soowahlie First Nation told me about a time he was in Chilliwack in the early decades of the 20th century, walking by the grounds of the Coqualeetza Residential School,” Carlson recalled. “He told me that the groundskeeper had tied up a student to a horse-wagon and was horse-whipping him, publicly, for other kids to see.”

He relayed another story about young Indigenous boys being kidnapped by American miners, literally stolen away from their families and taken to California in 1858.

RELATED: Stó:lō elder opens up about children found at residential school site in Kamloops

RELATED: City of Chilliwack releases statement on Kamloops Residential School burial site

“We have historical records that some of those boys who were six or seven years old when they were taken, they found their way back to the Fraser Valley, on their own, 30 years later,” Carlson said. “And some of them died and were buried in California. We’ve found one gravesite in Sacramento, and something like that speaks to Kamloops not being an isolated story. There is a deep history of these children being taken away and not returned to families who were desperate to find out what happened to them.”

Carlson is waiting for more details on the Kamloops discovery, and the answers to many questions.

How old are the bodies? How recently were they buried and most importantly, how did they die?

It’s possible, he noted, that they could have been victims of smallpox in the late 19th century, or the Spanish Flu epidemic of the early 1900s.

“You could see how there could be deaths, and you could see how children who came to the school from remote communities without regular road or rail access could be buried at the school in the winter months rather than transported home,” Carlson said.

“But if that’s the case, and I give them every benefit of the doubt, I’m left wondering why this wasn’t a well-tended cemetery? Why wasn’t this a peaceful place of last repose for children who died tragically in someone’s care?”

To Carlson, that suggests something “dark,” but without facts it’s all speculation.

What the Kamloops discovery might do, in a tragic but effective way, is make things more ‘real’ for people who are aware of residential schools, and know Indigenous children experienced terrible things in those places, but have only the shallowest understanding of what actually happened.

And it might be the catalyst for society as a whole to reflect on how it was allowed to happen.

“What happened to the people who ran those schools? The governments that funded that school? To the society that endorsed and voted for the people who created those schools?’” Carlson asked.

“How did we absolve ourselves somehow of the responsibility to care for those children, not just in life but also in death, caring for those burial sites, preserving and remembering.

“As a human being, it hurts that we could allow that to happen.”

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is offering toll-free 24-hour telephone support for survivors and their families at 1 (866) 925-4419. Alternately, you can reach out the KUU-US Crisis Line Society 24-hour line at 1-800-588-8717.


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

Like us on

chilliwackIndigenousresidential schools

 

Dozens of pairs of shoes and toys and teddy bears were placed on the Chilliwack Law Court steps on May 31, 2021 in support of the 215 bodies of children found last week in an unmarked grave at the site of an old Kamloops residential school. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

Just Posted

Langley Lake supplies the drinking water for Union Bay. File photo by Bob Ell
Comox Valley board wants to halt Union Bay-area logging plans

Regional district inviting forest company to work on watershed plan

Corwin Fox performs on the grounds of the Courtenay and District Fish & Game Club for a 2021 Vancouver Island MusicFest segment, with the iconic Comox Glacier in the background. The 2021 festival will feature numerous outdoor segments, highlighting the beauty of the Comox Valley. Photo via Island MusicFest
2021 Vancouver Island MusicFest format will showcase the beauty of the Comox Valley

The 2021 Vancouver Island MusicFest -The Virtual Edition - will be like… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Comox town hall. Black Press file photo
Comox takes step closer to finalizing Northeast Comox Storm Water Management Plan

“(This has been a) tremendous work in progress for many years”

John Marinus’s daughter, Margaret McCormack, and his wife Denise were out Saturday afternoon to help the Rotary Club of Comox move some tickets for the upcoming Ducky 500, known this year as the John Marinus Memorial Ducky 500. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Rotary Club of Comox Ducky Run tickets still available

Event has been rechristened as the John Marinus Memorial Ducky 500

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Most Read