“Make sure that our children are returned to their people”
Through Jenna kunze
KAMLOOPS, BC – On the first day of National Indigenous History Month, First Nations leaders across Canada called on their government to help identify and repatriate the remains of Indigenous children through the country after a mass grave was discovered last week at a former residential school site in British Columbia.
On May 27, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation located in the southern interior of British Columbia ad preliminary discoveries of an unmarked grave on the former property of Kamloops Indian Residential School, containing the remains of at least 215 children, some of whom were only three years old.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc chief Rosanne Casimir said in a statement that the results confirm what members of the indigenous community have long known.
“We had knowledge in our community that we were able to verify,” Casimir said. The tribe hired a ground penetrating radar specialist to find the grave during a site survey on their property. “To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented dead. ”
Kamloops Industrial School, later known as Kamloops Indian Residential School, was one of 134 officially designated Indian Residential Schools in Canada that operated from 1893 to 1996 with the goal of assimilating First Nations youth, Inuit and Métis. The schools were run by Catholic missionaries who prohibited students from speaking their native languages, eating their native foods, or practicing their cultural traditions in what the Canadian government now recognizes as “cultural genocide.”
In response to the news, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that Canada “cannot hide” from its painful history. “Residential schools were a reality – a tragedy that existed in our country – and we have to admit it,” he wrote. “We all have a role to play in dismantling systemic inequalities and discrimination – it starts with recognizing the truth about these past wrongs. It also begins with learning about and respecting the heritage, cultures and traditions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Trudeau also announced that the 2021 budget includes $ 18 billion over the next five years to support Indigenous communities.
But some say that is not enough.
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde said that following the discovery of the children’s burial site, there was a wave of support and mourning for the lives lost. “Flags are at half mast, children’s shoes line the steps of Parliament and monuments across the country and an orange wave is sweeping through social media,” he said in a statement provided to Indigenous News Online.
Indigenous leaders such as Bellegarde say the next step is to identify undocumented remains and repatriate them to their families.
“I demand that all governments commit to supporting First Nations seeking thorough investigations into former residential school sites and taking all available measures to hold perpetrators accountable,” Bellegarde said. “I encourage everyone in Canada to stand with First Nations as we insist that our children be returned to their people to finally receive the respect and dignity that are not accorded them in life. “
In Alberta, Provincial Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson this week urged the provincial government to fund research into the undocumented deaths and burials of Indigenous children who have never returned home.
Across the country, the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, Canada’s largest First Nations territory, are following suit.sent an open letter to Trudeau on Tuesday asking the government to provide him with ground-penetrating radar technology to search his own properties for anonymous graves.
The Mohawk Institute was one of the earliest residential schools in Canada and has had the oldest history, Chief Mark Hill wrote in the letter. “It meant he was unregulated and not accountable from the start,” he said. “With the discovery of the 215 children in Kamloops, there is no excuse not to take aggressive action to locate all those who have been lost in such places in Canada, including the Mohawk Institute. “
“There are many others”
While Indigenous leaders across Canada have expressed grief and anger over the recent discovery in Kamloops, many say they are not surprised and that many unmarked burial sites also need to be discovered and addressed.
“The important thing to know here is that these children are just a few of the children who have died in these schools,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, a charitable organization. nonprofit that defends indigenous families, in a interview with Democracy Now! earlier this week. “There are many more in anonymous graves across the country. “
The 1906 annual report of the Department of Indian Affairs, written by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Peter Bryce, shows that Aboriginal children suffered a death rate more than double that of the general population.
This was due to the high rates of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, associated with poor living conditions and endemic physical and sexual abuse suffered by indigenous children in schools.
“What we do know is that First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were dying at prolific rates often linked to federal underfunding of schools… and poor health practices…” said Blackstock. “And the federal government knew about it in 1907, had the remedies to fix it, and chose not to. “
“Huge gaps in written documents”
In 2007, the Canadian government created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) to hear the testimonies of over 6,500 witnesses and survivors who have been directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the residential school system.
As a result, the commission produced 94 calls to action for reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples in December 2015. Among the recommendations were calls for federal, religious and Indigenous community leaders to work to find where children are buried. in additional boarding schools across the country.
An anthropologist appointed by the CVR to examine where deceased children who went to residential schools are buriedDr Scott Hamilton said there were “huge gaps in the written material”.
“So we have more question marks than answers on the functioning of the schools, who went to the schools, what happened to them, what happened to all the children who never came home”, Hamilton said.
To create an accurate record, the anthropologist relied on satellite imagery to detect telltale signals from burial sites, such as depressions or mounds marking graves. By pairing his new spatial information with the few written records, Hamilton was able to locate many burial sites, although he said there was still no clear idea of how many children were there. .
According to Hamilton, there are 4,000 Aboriginal children with death certificates existing during the residential school era, but that does not include the “considerable” number of children whose families say they never returned home.
“It’s one in over 100 schools,” said Hamilton Indigenous news online. “That gives you an indication of how many times this is going to become a problem in Canada. A lot of these places have been in operation for 50 or 60 or 70 years, and there are a lot of deaths and … cumulatively there will be a lot of children who will be buried in these school cemeteries, or in an additional cemetery nearby, or in the church yard cemetery.
Going forward, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said they would complete their preliminary findings, including engaging with the coroner, contacting home communities that had children attending Kamloops Indian Residential School and by seeking additional files by mid-June. .
According to Hamilton, prioritizing a broad consultation on the individual wishes of families to exhume their loved ones should be a priority.
“I feel like communities of survivors don’t speak with one voice about what needs to be done next,” Hamilton said. “Because each of these schools may have children from very widely dispersed areas educated there, it will require quite a broad consultation and could involve multiple First Nations, all of whom have different views on what should be done. “
For support or resources, a Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for those directly or indirectly affected by the residential school era, and can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.
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