It’s an unthinkable tragedy.
The remains of 215 children have been found on the property of a former residential school in Kamloops. Their resting place is unmarked, and so far undocumented.
“These past few days have been very very hard. Hard for the community, hard for the leadership. It was shocking at every single level,” said Chief Rosanne Casmir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.
The children’s stories and names are buried with them, some as young as three years old.
“You wonder who they were. You wonder what life could have been for them,” said Steve Sxwithul’txw, a residential school survivor of Kuper Island Residential School on Penelakut Island.
The Kamloops Residential School was part of Canada’s state-sanctioned residential school system, which for or a century, uprooted around 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and homes to perform cultural genocide.
“I suffered sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and just feeling like I was a worthless human being with no sense of purpose or value,” Chief Robert Joseph of the Gwawaenuk First Nation told CHEK News back in February of 2017 when St. Michael’s Residential School was being torn down in Alert Bay.
And for many residential school survivors, like Sxwithul’txw, who was just five years old when he was ripped from his family in Duncan in the 1970s, the discovery of this mass children’s grave, is re-traumatizing, but not surprising.
“We know, and the elders know, some of our lost and missing children are in the ground somewhere,” said Sxwithul’txw, referring specifically to the grounds of Kuper Residential School.
“And as we continue these investigations across Canada at various location sites of these residential schools, we’re going to be hearing more of these events, and about these lost souls.”
Researchers at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation have been able to confirm 2,800 names of children who died in residential schools.
There are another 1,600, unnamed, and they expect there are many hundreds more, who simply vanished, undocumented in any records uncovered so far.
And some survivors say in the name of reconciliation, the expensive process to find them, should be funded.
“This is something that the Government of Canada should be bound to do,” said Sxwithul’txw.
“This is your history. This is Canadian history. And it’s important that we pass this on so nothing like this happens again.”
The BC Coroners Service is investigating, and the Royal BC Museum is looking for records that may have documented the children’s deaths.
Support services are available for anyone impacted by the news.
A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
The B.C. KUU-US Crisis Line Society also has 24-hour services available toll-free at 1-800-588-8717 or online here. A youth line is also available at 250-723-2040, and an adult line is available at 250-723-4050.