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Grief, sorrow after discovery of 215 bodies, unmarked graves at former B.C. residential school site

Click to play video: 'Discovery of human remains at Kamloops Residential School grounds' Discovery of human remains at Kamloops Residential School grounds
The Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation says a ground-penetrating radar survey of the Kamloops Residential School site has found the buried remains of more than 200 children. Paul Johnson reports from Kamloops – May 28, 2021

Warning: Some of the details in this story may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised. 

Sorrowful reaction is pouring in following the discovery of more than 200 children in unmarked graves at a former residential school in B.C.’s Interior.

On Thursday, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in Kamloops announced that ground-penetrating radar uncovered the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Read more: First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., confirms bodies of 215 children buried at former residential school site

In existence from 1890 to 1978, and with a wide regional grasp, Kamloops was the largest school in the Indian Affairs residential school system. One report says enrolment peaked in the early 1950s at 500 students.

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Click to play video: 'Indigenous and political leaders react to residential school discovery' Indigenous and political leaders react to residential school discovery
Indigenous and political leaders react to residential school discovery – May 28, 2021

Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir, Tk’emlups chief, said the community “had knowledge” of the missing children, which she called undocumented deaths.

“Some were as young as three years old,” said Casimir. “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.”

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Click to play video: 'Former residential school building in northern B.C. to be replaced with cultural centre' Former residential school building in northern B.C. to be replaced with cultural centre
Former residential school building in northern B.C. to be replaced with cultural centre – Apr 15, 2021

In a press release, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations said it is grieving the location of the unmarked graves.

“The finding of these graves refreshes the grief and loss for all First Nations in British Columbia as we remember the fear, horror and desperation experienced by families and communities as their children were forcibly taken away to residential schools,” said regional Chief Terry Teegee.

“It was a dreadful time of forced assimilation and genocide inflicted by the colonial Canadian state for over a hundred years. Finding these gravesites is urgent work as many families continue to mourn the loss of their missing children and seek information about their fates.”

Click to play video: 'Remains of more than 200 children found in Kamloops on former residential school site' Remains of more than 200 children found in Kamloops on former residential school site
Remains of more than 200 children found in Kamloops on former residential school site – May 28, 2021

Read more: ‘Tip of the iceberg.’ Experts say more burial sites, like at B.C. residential school, could be found

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Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called the news painful, adding “while it is not new to find graves at former residential schools in Canada, it’s always crushing to have that chapter’s wounds exposed.”

Marc Miller, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services, said it was heartbreaking news, adding he spoke to Casimir “to offer the full support of Indigenous Services Canada as the community, and surrounding communities, honour and mourn the loss of these children.”

The federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister, Carolyn Bennett, posted a Tweet with a 24-hour national crisis line that had been set up to support for former residential school students at 1-866-925-4419.

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Abbotsford mother outraged on social media over assignment on ‘positive’ aspects of residential schools – Nov 25, 2020

In an interview with Global News, Bennett said the discovery was heartbreaking, adding communities suffered when children didn’t come home.

“That is the kind of intergenerational trauma of their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren that we see today,” said Bennett, adding “I think that, you know, the heartbreaking revelation of yesterday means that there will be more.”

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Read more: Former residential school building to be demolished in Lower Post, B.C.

Bennett added work at the site has been going on for more than a decade, “and that we know that that we will need to do more.”

Global News has reached out to several First Nations in B.C.’s Interior for comment.

Click to play video: 'B.C. First Nation turns residential school into resort' B.C. First Nation turns residential school into resort
B.C. First Nation turns residential school into resort – May 17, 2018

The CEO of the First Nations Health Authority in B.C., Richard Jock, said the discovery illustrates the damage Canada’s residential school system continues to cause, even decades after being disbanded.

“This particular event may be seen as historical, but it’s also a continuous trend, I would say, of this power imbalance, if you would, that creates these issues for First Nations people,” he said, adding that the health authority will be providing mental health and trauma support to community members as the search continues.

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B.C. Premier John Horgan also commented, stating he was horrified and heartbroken to learn that the burial site of 215 children had been confirmed.

–With files from The Canadian Press

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