The Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, closed in 1978 (Image source - reuters.com)
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 1,50,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a programme to assimilate them into Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.
The remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were found at the site of a former residential school for Indigenous children, a discovery Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described as heartbreaking. The children were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia that closed in 1978, according to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation, which said the remains were found with the help of a ground-penetrating radar specialist.
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 suffered by many of the 150,000 children who attended the schools, typically run by Christian churches on behalf of Ottawa from the 1840s to the 1990s.
“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify,” Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir said in a statement. “At this time, we have more questions than answers.”