TORONTO, Canada: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said flags at all federal buildings would be flown at half-staff to honour more than 200 children whose remains have been found buried at what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school — one of the institutions that held children taken from families across the nation.
The Peace Tower flag on Parliament Hill in the nation’s capital of Ottawa was among those lowered to half-staff.
“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 and all federal buildings be flown at half-mast,” Trudeau tweeted.
Mayors of communities across Ontario, including Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga and Brampton, also ordered flags lowered to honour the children.
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society.
They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6000 are said to have died.
The Canadian government apologised in Parliament in 2008 and admitted that physical and sexual abuse in the schools was rampant. Many students recall being beaten for speaking their native languages; they also lost touch with their parents and customs.
Indigenous leaders have cited that legacy of abuse and isolation as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations.
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
A report more than five years ago by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission revealed that at least 3,200 children had died amid abuse and neglect, and it said it had reports of at least 51 deaths at the Kamloops school alone between 1915 and 1963.
“This really resurfaces the issue of residential schools and the wounds from this legacy of genocide towards Indigenous people,” Terry Teegee, Assembly of First Nations regional chief for British Colombia, said on Friday.
The remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were found buried on the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school — one of the institutions that held children taken from families across the nation.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation said in a news release that the remains were confirmed last weekend with the help of ground-penetrating radar.
More bodies may be found because there are more areas to search on the school grounds, Casimir said.
In an earlier release, she called the discovery an “unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented at the Kamloops Indian Residential School”.
The city of Kamloops is now a major regional urban centre with circa 92,000 residents. The Kamloops Indian Band’s business district functions economically as a part of the city, though it is separately administered by the Band. The golf course and resort community of Sun Rivers is located on the main Kamloops Reserve.
Honouring the spirits of children in the unmarked graves at Kamloops residential school. To families & nations who never knew what happened to their loved ones,I hope you find closure. I lift you up & Honour your sacred spirits. pic.twitter.com/UnBmf48cpH
— Leah ProudLakota (she/her) (@LeahGazan) May 28, 2021
At one time the Secwepemc people occupied one large Traditional territory covering approximately 145,000 square kilometers. In 1811, after European contact, the colonial government divided the Secwepemc people into 17 distinct groups with specific parcels of land designated to each.
The Kamloops Reserve land base was established in 1862 under the direction of Governor James Douglas. It is located east of the North Thompson River and north of the South Thompson River, adjacent to the City of Kamloops.
The word Kamloops is the English translation of the Shuswap word Tk’emlúps, meaning ‘where the rivers meet,’ and for centuries has been the home of the Tk’emlupsemc, ‘people of the confluence.’