Work underway for forensic experts to identify and repatriate remains of residential school children in British Columbia
WARNING: This story contains details that some readers may find distressing.
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, said an Indigenous chief from Province.
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.
This 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 forensic analysis of the identity of these children, where are they from if that is possible”, a- 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 as young as three, were confirmed last weekend using a radar penetrating the ground.
She described the find as “an unthinkable loss that was talked about but never documented at Kamloops Indian Residential School.”
Teegee said he spoke with Casimir about the discovery of the remains and offered the support of Indigenous leaders and groups from across Canada.
He said they discussed how to continue research and provide support to the Tk’emlúps Nation and those who may have lost a loved one.
‘There were always stories’
Casimir said on Friday that more bodies could be found as there were 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 that it could also mean exhuming the remains with the aim of repatriating 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 at a Vancouver memorial this week, 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 broke 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 providing support to the First Nation by researching the archives of the BC Archives for historical information on deaths or burials at the school.
“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 kids 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 discovery of Kamloops shed further light on the dark history of Canada’s residential schools.
“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 establishment from the Catholic Church 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 in school between 1915 and 1963.
Support is available to anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools and to those triggered by the latest reports. The the 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 provides a crisis line specific to First Nations and Indigenous people available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is toll free and can be reached at 1-800-588-8717 or online at kuu-uscrisisline.com.