The remains of 215 children, some as young as three, were found on the site of a former residential school for Indigenous children, a discovery Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described as heartbreaking Friday.
The children were students at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia which closed in 1978, according to the Tk’emlúps at Secwépemc Nation, who said the remains were found with the help of a ground-penetrating radar specialist.
“We had an acquaintance in our community that we could verify,” Rosanne Casimir, head of Tk’emlúps at Secwépemc, said in a statement. “At the moment we have more questions than answers.”
Canada’s residential school system, which forcibly separated indigenous children from their families, constituted “ cultural genocide, ” a six-year investigation into the now-defunct system found in 2015.
The report documented horrific physical abuse, rape, malnutrition, and other atrocities attended by many of the 150,000 children who attended schools from the 1840s to the 1990s, usually run by Christian churches on behalf of Ottawa.
It found that more than 4,100 children died while attending a residential school. The deaths of the 215 children buried in the grounds of what was once Canada’s largest residential school are reportedly not included in that figure and appear undocumented until discovery.
Trudeau wrote in a tweet that the news “breaks my heart – it’s a painful reminder of that dark and embarrassing chapter in our country’s history.”
The news that remains, found at the former Kamloops residential school, breaks my heart – it’s a painful reminder of that dark and embarrassing chapter in our country’s history. I think of everyone affected by this disturbing news. We are here for you. https://t.co/ZUfDRyAfET
– Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) May 28, 2021
In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the system.
The Tk’emlúps at Secwépemc Nation said it was in contact with the coroner and contacted the home communities whose children attended the school. They expect to have preliminary findings by mid-June.
In a statement, Terry Teegee called finding such grave sites “ urgent work ” that “ refreshes the grief and loss for all of the First Nations in British Columbia ” in a statement.