WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
It has been a year since a British Columbia First Nation confirmed the discovery of potential unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, triggering further investigation of the site as well as further research to across the country.
Today, the Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation is holding a memorial to mark this discovery and honor the children whose lives were lost while they were forced to attend residential school, which they came to call The Estcwicwe̓y̓ — The disappeared.
Preliminary information obtained by ground-penetrating radar in May 2021 showed there could be up to 215 unmarked child burial sites near the school, although specialist Sarah Beaulieu later said that she suspected the number could be much higher as only a small part of the site was being investigated.
On May 27, the First Nation shared the results with the world.
“When I reflect and have to share with the world the discoveries of the unmarked graves, it was something devastating personally as a mother and grandmother and as a leader,” Kukpi7 (leader) Rosanne Casimir told the journalists at a press conference. conference last week.
For Indigenous peoples across the country, the announcement was not news, as abuses suffered in residential schools were shared and detailed in oral histories.
The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) said, based on death records, about 4,100 children died in residential schools in Canada, but the true total is much higher.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, many Indigenous children who were forcibly sent to residential schools never returned home.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School operated from 1890 to 1969, when the federal government took over administration from the Catholic Church to operate it as a residence for a day school, until it closed in 1978.
According to the NCTR, as many as 500 children from First Nations communities in British Columbia and elsewhere were reportedly enrolled in school at any given time.
Monday’s event begins at 5 a.m. PT on May 23 at Tk̓emlúps Pow Wow Arbor with a sunrise ceremony, followed by prayers and singing throughout the morning. Singing, dancing and feasting will close the afternoon, with a closing prayer around 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with members of the Casimir Council and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kúkpi7 and attend the ceremony. He is expected to speak to the media at the event.
The pope and the queen asked to apologize
Since the findings, the federal government has committed more than $320 million to finding residential school sites and supporting survivors and their families, though Indigenous-Crown Relations Minister Marc Miller says this amount is “probably not enough”.
In January 2022, the government reached an agreement with the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation to turn over thousands of documents related to residential schools.
Pope Francis confirmed his intention to visit canada in July, and while he won’t be stopping in Kamloops, he is expected to issue a formal apology to survivors and their families on behalf of the church.
Following a meeting with Prince Charles on Wednesday, Assembly of First Nations Chief RoseAnne Archibald called on the Queen to apologize for the Crown’s role in the wrongs perpetrated by the Canadian government in his name, including the trauma caused by “institutions of assimilation and genocide in Canada.”
Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or recent reports.
A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.
Do you have any information about unmarked graves, children who never came home, or residential school staff and operations? Email your advice to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: Where are [email protected].