Hundred of bodies discovered at Canada’s former largest indigenous school

Toronto: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked that flags at all federal buildings be flown at half-staff to honour more than 200 children whose remains have been found buried at what had been Canada’s largest indigenous residential school.

The Peace Tower flag on Parliament Hill in the nation’s capital of Ottawa was among those lowered to half-staff on Sunday (Monday AEST).

Shoes line the edge of the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill in memory of the 215 children whose remains were found.Credit:AP

“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, I have asked that the Peace Tower and all federal buildings be flown at half-mast,” Trudeau tweeted.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was one of the institutions that held children taken from families across the nation.

Mayors of communities across Ontario, including Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga and Brampton, also ordered flags lowered to honour the children.

Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia said the remains of 215 children, some as young as 3 years old, were confirmed last weekend with the help of ground-penetrating radar.

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, British Columbia.Credit:AP

She described the discovery as “an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”

From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program 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 6000 are said to have died.

The Canadian government apologised in Parliament in 2008 and admitted that physical and sexual abuse in the schools was rampant. Many students recalled being beaten for speaking their native languages. They also lost touch with their parents and customs.

Indigenous leaders have cited that legacy of abuse and isolation as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations.

Plans are underway to bring in forensics experts to identify and repatriate the remains of the children found buried on the site.

The Kamloops school operated between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took over operations from the Catholic Church and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1978.

The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1915 and 1963.

Perry Bellegarde, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said while it is not new to find graves at former residential schools, it’s always crushing to have that chapter’s wounds exposed.

Stephanie Gilpin, whose parents, aunts and uncles were sent to residential schools, smooths out the cedar that she placed in a pair of moccasins at the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario.Credit:AP

Toronto Mayor John Tory said city flags would stay lowered for nine days — 215 hours — to represent each life.

“This sad story is shocking but not surprising to students of history, I don’t think we know yet when these deaths occurred,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

“Canada of yesteryear is not the Canada of today,″⁣ he said.


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