Warning: Some of the details in this story may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
The flags on all federal buildings and the Peace Tower located on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, ON., will be flown at half-mast to honour the 215 children whose bodies were found buried under a residential school in B.C. earlier this week, the prime minister says.
In a tweet Sunday afternoon, Justin Trudeau said the flags will be flown at half-mast to “honour the 215 children whose lives were taken at the former Kamloops residential school” and “all Indigenous children who never made it home, the survivors, and their families.”
On Thursday, the chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc confirmed that it had found the remains of the 215 children, buried on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Chief Rosanne Casimir called the discovery “unthinkable,” but said the presence of the remains was “a knowing” in the Tk’emlúps community.
The remains were found using ground-penetrating radar.
The 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.
In a joint statement on Friday, Canada’s Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister, Carolyn Bennett, and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said they were “profoundly saddened” by the discovery.
“The mistreatment of Indigenous children is a tragic and shameful part of Canada’s history,” the statement read. “Residential schools were part of a colonial policy that removed Indigenous children from their communities.”
The ministers said “thousands” of children were sent to these schools and “never returned to their families.”
“The families were often provided with little to no information on the circumstances of their loved one’s death nor the location of their burial,” the statement reads.
“The loss of children who attended residential schools is unthinkable and Canada remains resolved to supporting families, survivors, communities and to memorializing those lost innocent souls.”
Bennett and Miller said the government is “working with the community and our partners, such as the BC First Nations Health Authority, to provide resources and the support needed as determined by the community.”
In a tweet Friday, Trudeau said the news that remains were found at the former residential school “breaks my heart.”
“It is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history,” he wrote. “I am thinking of everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you.”
In a statement on Friday, Kamloops RCMP Superintendent Sydney Lecky said as the Tk’emlúps RCMP Detachment “moves forward, we will be working with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community leaders in determining the next steps and the best way to be involved, while at the same time being supportive, respectful, and culturally sensitive to the Indigenous communities that are impacted.”
According to Miller, the flags will be flown at half-mast “until further notice.”
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support to former residential school students and those affected.
The crisis line can be accessed 24-hours a day, seven days a week at 1-866-925-4419.
-With files from James Peters