Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that it is not an isolated incident that more than 200 children have been found buried in a former Indigenous residential school.
Trudeau’s comments come as Indigenous leaders demand a review of all former residential school sites – facilities that housed abducted children from families across the country.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia said the remains of 215 children, some as young as 3, were confirmed this month using radar penetrating into the ground. She described the find as “an unthinkable loss that has been talked about but has never been documented” at Kamloops Indian Residential School, the largest such school in the country.
âAs Prime Minister, I am appalled by the shameful policies that have robbed Indigenous children of their communities,â Trudeau said.
âUnfortunately, this is not an exception or an isolated incident,â he said. âWe’re not going to hide it. We have to recognize the truth. Residential schools were a reality – a tragedy that existed here in our country, and we have to admit it. The children were taken from their families, returned damaged or not returned at all. “
From the 19th century to the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children had to attend publicly funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and were not allowed to speak their mother tongue. Many have been beaten and insulted, and up to 6,000 are believed to have died.
The Canadian government apologized to Parliament in 2008 and admitted that physical and sexual violence in schools was rampant. Many students remembered being beaten for speaking their mother tongue. They also lost contact with their parents and their customs.
Indigenous leaders have cited this legacy of abuse and isolation as the root cause of the drug and alcohol epidemic rates on reserves.
Plans are underway to call in forensic experts to identify and repatriate the remains of children found buried at the Kamloops site.
Trudeau said he would speak to his ministers on Monday about what his government needs to do to support survivors and the community. The flags of all federal buildings are half used.
NDP Opposition Leader Jagmeet Singh called for an emergency debate in Parliament on Monday.
âIt’s no surprise. It’s a reality of residential schools,â Singh said.
â215 indigenous children were found in an unmarked mass grave,â he said. âWhenever we think of unmarked mass graves, we think of a faraway land where genocide took place. It is not a far country. “
The Kamloops School operated between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took over the operations of the Catholic Church and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1978.
Richard Gagnon, Archbishop of Winnipeg and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed âour deepest sorrow for the heartbreaking loss of the children of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission recorded at least 51 children who died in school between 1915 and 1963. The Commission identified around 3,200 confirmed deaths in schools, but noted that schools had not recorded the cause of death. in almost half of them. Some died of tuberculosis. The Commission said the practice was not to send the bodies of deceased students to schools in their communities. The Commission also said the government wanted to cut costs so that adequate regulations were never established.
âThis discovery is a stain on our country. This is a problem that must be rectified, âsaid opposition Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner.
Perry Bellegarde, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said that while it is nothing new to find graves in old residential schools, it is still overwhelming to see the wounds of this chapter exposed.
Sol Mamakwa, an opposition MP for the Ontario NDP, called on the governments of Canada and Ontario to search the grounds of other former residential schools.
âIt’s a big open secret that our kids are lying about old school properties. It’s an open secret that Canadians can no longer look away from, âhe said.
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