May 30, 2021
By Rebecca Falconer
[Photo above: A woman mourns beside 215 pairs of children’s shoes outside Vancouver Art Gallery during a memorial in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Saturday, after a mass grave of Indigenous children was found. Photo: Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]
An Indigenous Canadian group announced plans Saturday to identify the remains of 215 children, some as young as three, found buried at the site of a former residential school, per CBC News.
The big picture: The discovery of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation children’s remains has renewed calls for the Roman Catholic Church to apologize for its role in Canada’s policy of the 19th and 20th centuries that saw Indigenous children removed from families to attend state-funded residential schools.
- Many of the almost 150,000 children attending the schools from 1883 to 1996 to “assimilate” into white Canadian society encountered neglect and abuse, as their native languages and cultures were forbidden, the Washington Post reports.
- Canada’s government apologized in 2008, admitting that physical and sexual abuse in the schools was widespread.
Details: Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation Chief Rosanne Casimir said in a statement announcing the discovery Thursday, “To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths.”
- She said in a later statement that more bodies could be uncovered as not all areas had been searched at the Kamloops Indian Residential School — which the Catholic Church ran from 1890 to 1969 before the Canadian government took over its administration until the school’s closure in 1978.
- Assembly of First Nations regional chief Terry Teegee told the CBC that forensic experts would join the BC Coroners Service and the Royal B.C. Museum for the identification.
- Prime Minister Trudeau tweeted Friday that the discovery was “a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history.”
Of note: The Roman Catholic Church has declined to apologize for its role in what Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission found in 2015 to be cultural genocide, despite Trudeau writing to Pope Francis to ask for one.
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has urged the pope to apologize, but First Nations Child and Family Caring Society executive director Cindy Blackstock noted Friday that the “Catholic Church has yet to do that, and to really accept full responsibility for reparations to families,” per CTV News.
- “So that’s something that we need to look into the Catholic Church to be doing, to accept that” accountability, Blackstock said.
What they’re saying: Archbishop of Vancouver J. Michael Miller said in a statement to CTV News,”[W]e pledge to do whatever we can to heal that suffering.”
Between the lines: While it’s not yet known how the children died, “accidents, fires and contagious illness at residential schools all contributed to a high death toll, which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has estimated at more than 4,000 children,” the Washington Post notes.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.