Warning: Some of the details in this story may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
The chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc calls the discovery “unthinkable.”
The band confirmed on Thursday that it has found the remains of 215 children buried on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Chief Rosanne Casimir said the presence of the remains was “a knowing” in the Tk’emlups community, but was confirmed this past weekend with the help of a ground-penetrating radar specialist.
The Tk’emlups Heritage Park is closed to the public as work continues, with the potential that crews may find more remains.
The children, some as young as three, were students at the school, which was once the largest in Canada’s residential school system.
Casimir said it’s believed the deaths are undocumented, though the Secwepemc Museum’s archivist is working with the Royal British Columbia Museum to see if any records of the deaths can be found.
She said leadership of the Tk’emlups community “acknowledges their responsibility to caretake for these lost children.”
“We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children,” said Casimir in a news release.
Work to identify the site was led by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Language and Cultural Department alongside ceremonial Knowledge Keepers, who made sure the work was done in keeping with cultural protocols.
Preliminary work began in the early 2000s.
“With access to the latest technology, the true accounting of the missing students will hopefully bring some peace and closure to those lives lost and their home communities,” said Casimir in a release.
Casimir said band officials are informing community members and surrounding communities who had children who attended the school.
“This is the beginning but, given the nature of this news, we felt it important to share immediately,” she said.
“At this time we have more questions than answers.”
Kamloops Indian Residential School operated from 1890 to 1969, with peak enrollment of 500 in the 1950s. The federal government took over administration of the school from 1969 to 1978, using the building as a residence for students attending other Kamloops schools.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission said large numbers of Indigenous children either ran away from residential schools or died at the schools, their whereabouts unknown.