FROM THE EDITORS: The remains of 215 indigenous children were found in mid-May in the courtyard of a Catholic residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, as a product of the systematic and dedicated work of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc of the Secwepemc Nation in Canada. These children were kidnapped by Canada’s government in a genocidal process of forced assimilation during the 19th and 20th centuries.
According to testimonies provided before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) by members of First Nations, Inuits, and Métis, there were multiple cases of deaths of children, who succumbed to either illness or abuse, inside the 130 Canadian residential schools, but most of their bodies were not returned to their families. They remain in mass graves, often without identification.
Indigenous people had requested government funds to carry out forensic investigations into these cases, but the financial support of such critical work is still pending. For this reason, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc decided to undertake on their own, based on testimonies of the survivors for the TRC, the verification of the whereabouts of disappeared or unaccounted for children. Under a colonial Canadian law, the Indian Act of 1876, Native reservations were literally open prisons where residents were not allowed to leave without permission (nor visit their children) until 1951. They did not have the right to vote until 1960.
We reproduce below the press release of the Chief of the Tk’emlúps People, where they explain the course of the discovery, and ask for solidarity and understanding of their cultural ways of starting the process of mourning for such painful events. The Catholic Church has yet to publicly apologize for its role in the administration of these residential schools.
SOURCE: Press release of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, translated to Spanish by Awasqa.
Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc (Kamloops Indian Band)
Office of the Chief, For Immediate Release
May 27, 2021, Kamloops –It is with a heavy heart that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir confirms an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented by the Kamloops Indian Residential School. This past weekend, with the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist, the stark truth of the preliminary findings came to light –the confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the home community of the Kamloops Indian Residential School which was the largest school in the Indian Affairs residential school system. As such, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Leadership acknowledges their responsibility to caretake for these lost children.
“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” stated Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir. “Some were as young as three years old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children.”
This work was undertaken by the C7élksten̓s re Secwépemc ne Ck̓úl̓tens ell neXqwelténs (Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Language and Culture Department) with ceremonial Knowledge Keepers who ensured that the work was conducted respectfully in light of the serious nature of the investigation with cultural protocols being upheld.
Given that these lost loved ones are buried within the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community, and with all community members still grappling with the effects of residential school, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief and Council first reached out to their community members to make them aware of the situation, albeit that it is still developing.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc will continue to work with the ground penetrating radar specialist to complete the survey of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School grounds. In undertaking this current investigation, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief and Council would like to acknowledge the preliminary work that was carried out in the early 2000’s. With access to the latest technology, the true accounting of the missing students will hopefully bring some peace and closure to those lives lost and their home communities.
Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir stated, “We are thankful for the Pathway to Healing grant we received to undertake this important work. Given the size of the school, with up to 500 students registered and attending at any one time, we understand that this confirmed loss affects First Nations communities across British Columbia and beyond. We wish to ensure that our community members, as well as all home communities for the children who attended are duly informed. This is the beginning but, given the nature of this news, we felt it important to share immediately. At this time we have more questions than answers. We look forward to providing updates as they become available.”
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is following the necessary steps regarding these preliminary findings. This includes:
- Engaging with the coroner.
- Reaching out to the home communities who had children who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
- Taking measures to ensure that the locations of the remains are protected.
- The Secwépemc Museum Archivist is working with the Royal British Columbia Museum, amongst others, to seek out any existing records of these deaths.
Please note that the Heritage Park is closed to the public and none will be permitted on site for the duration of this sensitive work.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc expect to complete preliminary findings by mid-June and will be providing updates as they become available.
Missing Children The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) noted that large numbers of Indigenous children who were sent to residential schools never returned to their home communities. Some children ran away, and others died at the schools. The students who did not return have come to be known as the Missing Children. The Missing Children Project documents the deaths and the burial places of children who died while attending the schools. To date, more than 4,100 children who died while attending a residential school have been identified. (Source: http://www.trc.ca/events-and-projects/missing-children-project.html)
Brief Background about the Kamloops Indian Residential School:
Kamloops (BC)Dates of OperationMay 19, 1890 -July 31, 1978, Description. The Kamloops Industrial School (later known as the Kamloops Indian Residential School) was opened, under Roman Catholic administration, in 1890. It became the largest school in the Indian Affairs residential school system. Enrollment peaked in the early 1950s at 500. In 1910, the principal said that the government did not provide enough money to properly feed the students. In 1924, a portion of the school was destroyed by fire. In 1969, the federal government took over the administration of the school, which no longer provided any classes and operated it as residence for students attending local day schools until 1978, when the residence was closed. (National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation)
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
- Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc’s website
- “Where are the Children buried?” report by Scott Hamilton, Lakehead University
- A second press release from May 31, 2021
- Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials (vol 4.) (PDF)
- Missing Children Project
The Tk‘emlúpsemc, ‘the people of the confluence’, now known as the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc are members of the Interior-Salish Secwepemc (Shuswap) speaking peoples of British Columbia.