First Nation Calls for Disclosure of School Records to Identify Residential Victims

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The First Nations community that shocked Canada with the discovery of anonymous graves says school records will be essential in identifying the victims – and that a much larger area needs to be excavated to understand the true scale of the tragedy.

The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation released its first comprehensive report on Thursday on the discovery of 215 anonymous graves at the site of a former residential school.

“We are not here for retaliation. We are here to tell the truth, ”said Kúkpi7 (chef) Rosanne Casimir during a presentation of the results. “We are here today to honor the missing children in our guardianship who experienced unthinkable circumstances leading to their death and whose remains have been placed in anonymous graves. “

The report comes nearly two months after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced that ground-penetrating radar had identified suspected unmarked graves.

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Residential schools in Canada

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Residential schools in Canada
Over 100 years, more than 150,000 Aboriginal children have been taken from their families to attend publicly funded Christian residential schools in an attempt to forcibly assimilate them into Canadian society.

They were given new names, forcibly converted to Christianity, and are not allowed to speak their mother tongue. Thousands of people have died from disease, neglect and suicide; many have never been returned to their families.

The last residential school closed in 1996.

Almost three-quarters of the 130 boarding schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, while others were administered by the Presbyterian, Anglican and United Church of Canada, which is today the largest Protestant denomination in the country. .

In 2015, a historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the residential school system amounted to a policy of cultural genocide.

The testimony of survivors made it clear that sexual, emotional and physical abuse was rife in schools. And the trauma suffered by students has often been passed on to younger generations – a reality magnified by the systematic inequalities that persist across the country.

Dozens of First Nations do not have access to safe drinking water and racism against Indigenous people is rampant in the health system. Aboriginal people are overrepresented in federal prisons and Aboriginal women are killed at a much higher rate than other groups.

Commissioners identified 20 unidentified graves in former residential schools, but they also warned that more unidentified graves had yet to be found across the country.

Photograph: Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan / SASKATCHE PROVINCIAL ARCHIVES
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At least 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools across the country, which were federally funded and run by churches as part of the campaign to strip young people of their cultural identity.

Since then, other First Nations have reported similar findings at the site of former residential schools.

The Cowessess First Nation in the province of Saskatchewan last month announced 751 potential unmarked burial sites and 182 graves have been discovered near St Eugene Residential School in southeastern British Columbia. Earlier this week, the Penelakut tribe said more than 160 undocumented graves had been found near the site of the Kuper Island boarding school.

Casimir called on the federal government to publish attendance records to begin the process of identifying potential victims.

“Every student who has ever attended Kamloops Residential School is documented in these records,” she said. “We are reluctant to shift the responsibility of identifying the lost to survivors… who have already been traumatized and re-traumatized. “

Casimir also called on the Catholic Church to release its records, targeting an institution that faces mounting criticism for its failure to compensate survivors.

“The Roman Catholic Church has repeatedly refused to accept responsibility or formally apologize for its direct role in the many and horrendous abuses committed… through the residential school system,” she said.

As part of the announcement, school survivors spoke about the institution’s legacy.

Evelyn Camille, an elder from Tk’emlups te Secwepemc who was forced to attend school, said many had long warned of missing children but were ignored.

“Truth and reconciliation? I have often asked myself: “What does this mean? Do they really want to hear the truth? We tried to tell them the truth, ”she said. “Who will listen?” “

Camille called on the graves to remain intact. “Yes, there may be studies to do, but what good are these studies going to bring us? “

Only two hectares of the site, an apple orchard, were surveyed – an area that “barely scratched the surface,” said Dr Sarah Beaulieu, a ground-penetrating radar specialist who has worked with the community. An additional 160 acres – 647,500 square meters – still require a survey.

Stories of children as young as six waking up at night to dig holes for burials, as well as the discovery of a juvenile rib and tooth in this area, prompted the initial research earlier this year.

Only excavations and a forensic study, however, can conclusively confirm how many children are buried on the land, Beaulieu said.

“Remote sensing such as [ground penetrating radar] It is not necessary to know that children went missing in the context of residential schools. This fact, this knowledge has been recognized by indigenous communities for generations, ”she said. “All residential school landscapes are likely to contain graves and missing children. And remote sensing like [radar] simply provides some spatial specificity to this truth.

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