Canada ordered flags to fly at half-mast Sunday, days after an indigenous community announced that they had found hundreds of bodies at one of the schools that the government placed indigenous children in for decades.
The school, located in Kamloops, British Columbia, was one of many schools that took in children the Canadian government forcibly removed from indigenous tribes for mandatory assimilation. Many children in those schools were neglected or abused, and some died.
“To honour the 215 children whose lives were taken at the former Kamloops residential school and all Indigenous children who never made it home, the survivors, and their families, I have asked that the Peace Tower flag and flags on all federal buildings be flown at half-mast,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a statement Sunday.
To honour the 215 children whose lives were taken at the former Kamloops residential school and all Indigenous children who never made it home, the survivors, and their families, I have asked that the Peace Tower flag and flags on all federal buildings be flown at half-mast.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) May 30, 2021
It’s not clear how many children died while attending Kamloops Indian Residential School, which the Catholic Church operated between 1890 and the late 1960s. Previously, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was tasked with going through the history of the residential school system, confirmed the names of 48 students who died after 1914. Another three students were named as well, but the date of their death is not known.
But Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation, who announced this week that remains were detected with the help of ground-penetrating radar, says that they’ve found the bodies of 215 children and there may still be more of them.
“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” said Casimir in a statement earlier this week. “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.”
Archbishop J. Michael Miller, of the Vancouver Archdiocese, called the discovery a reminder “of our ongoing need to bring to light every tragic situation that occurred in residential schools run by the Church,” The New York Times reported. “The passage of time does not erase the suffering,” he said.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, indigenous children in the residential schools system died at far higher rates than comparable members of the Canadian population — between the ages of 5 and 14 — until the 1950s.
For example, the rate of confirmed deaths in residential schools was about twice as high in the early 1920s and nearly four times as high between 1926 and 1930. And between 1946 and 1950, when fewer than 1 in 1,000 children in the general population were dying, the confirmed death rate for residential school children was still more than three times higher.
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