Plans are underway to identify and return home the remains of more than 200 children found buried at the site of a former residential school in the southern interior of British Columbia, a provincial Indigenous leader said. The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation wants to begin the “heartbreaking” process to eventually tell the stories of the children and bring peace to their families, said Terry Teegee, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
The effort could involve the BC Coroners Service, the Royal BC Museum and forensic experts, he said.
Teegee said he has met with Indigenous leaders from across the province to decide on next steps.
“Really, I think what needs to happen is maybe some sort of discovery and maybe a forensic investigation into who these children were, where did they come from if that’s possible,” he said in an interview with Prince George.
“And maybe repatriation to their respective communities because the students come not only from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc area but also from neighboring communities and as far north as Fort Nelson,” he said.
“An unthinkable loss”
Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said the remains of 215 children, some of whom were only three years old, were confirmed last weekend using radar at soil penetration.
She described the find as “an unthinkable loss talked about but never documented at Kamloops Indian Residential School.”
Teegee said he spoke with Casimir about the discovery of the remains and offered support to Indigenous leaders and groups from across Canada.
He said they discussed how to continue the research and provide support to the Tk’emlúps Nation and those who may have lost a loved one.
“There have always been stories”
Casimir said on Friday that more bodies could be found as there are more areas to search within the school grounds.
Teegee said the investigation may require working with the Royal BC Museum on how best to manage the area and it could also mean exhuming the remains in a bid to repatriate the children to their communities.
The discovery of the remains confirms the many comments from school survivors about the missing children, he said.
“I think it’s about the stories of those kids who said, ‘There have always been stories of those funerals, and everything that happened to this kid who supposedly disappeared at random,” “he said. -he declares.
Several people gathered this week at a Vancouver memorial, where children’s shoes and dolls were placed on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Gunargie O’Sullivan, a residential school survivor who was at the memorial on Friday, said the news was a trigger for many school survivors.
“I am fortunate to say that I am alive,” she said, adding that her mother was also a residential school survivor.
O’Sullivan said survivors have spoken repeatedly of the deaths in schools.
She hopes the memorial will help people understand the deaths were real, as will the trauma many survivors continue to experience.
Dan Muzyka, chairman of the board of the Royal BC Museum, said his team was supporting the First Nation by searching for records held in the BC Archives for historical information related to the deaths or at school funerals.
“The most important and relevant documents in the BC archives are those of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the religious order that ran the school,” Muzyka said in a statement.
“The museum is committed to fully supporting the Nation through this archival research. “
Nicole Schabus, a law professor at Thompson Rivers University, said each of her first-year law students at the University of Kamloops spends at least a day at the old residential school talking with survivors.
“I am very grateful to the survivors who so generously shared their stories,” she said.
Schabus said she hadn’t heard from the survivors about an unmarked grave, “but they’re all talking about the children who didn’t.”
Survivors began calling her on Thursday when the discovery was made public, saying they couldn’t sleep because the reports had triggered horrific childhood memories, she said.
Teegee said the Kamloops discovery shed light on the grim history of residential schools in Canada.
“It really resurfaces the issue of residential schools and the wounds of this legacy of genocide against indigenous peoples,” he said.
Kamloops Residential School operated between 1890 and 1969. The federal government took over the operation of the Catholic Church facility and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1978.
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission recorded at least 51 children who died at school between 1915 and 1963.
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools and for those triggered by the latest reports. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll free at 1-800-721-0066.
A National Residential Schools Crisis Line has been set up to provide support to former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.
In British Columbia, the KUU-US Crisis Line Society has a 24/7 First Nations and Aboriginal Crisis Line. It is a toll-free number and can be reached at 1-800-588-8717 or online at kuu-uscrisisline.com.