'Horrified and heartbroken': Communities in mourning after children found buried at former Kamloops residential school | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'Horrified and heartbroken': Communities in mourning after children found buried at former Kamloops residential school

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School is seen on Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C. on Thursday, May 27, 2021. The remains of 215 children have been found buried on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Snucins
May 28, 2021 - 10:05 AM

As the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation grapples with the discovery of the remains of 215 children found buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site, Indigenous leaders and B.C.'s premier are responding with shock and compassion.

As communities mourn and honour the children who died at the school, Premier John Horgan issued a statement today, May 28, acknowledging the findings as an example of the violence inflicted upon Indigenous peoples by the Canadian residential school system.

“I am horrified and heartbroken to learn that the burial site of 215 children has been confirmed on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School,” Horgan said in the statement. “Each child has been forever taken from a family and a community that loved them. This is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions.”

The premier also acknowledged the findings are a reminder of how the “consequences of these atrocities continue to this day.”

READ MORE: Remains of 215 children found at former residential school in British Columbia

The preliminary findings are the result of radar studies conducted by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Language and Culture Department, with funding from the provincial Pathway to Healing grant.

“Though we knew that many children never returned home, and their families were left without answers, this confirmation brings a particular heaviness to our hearts and our spirits all throughout Secwépemculecw," Kukpi7 Judy Wilson said in a media release.

Wilson is chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band and secretary treasurer of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

"We stand beside you in prayer, and in honouring each and every one of them," she said.

The first union meeting took place at the residential school, where over 150 chiefs and delegates gathered on the grounds in 1969, union vice president, Chief Don Tom, said in a media release.

"Those leaders gathered together on these grounds, and what we now know to be the sacred, and final, resting place of these children," Tom said. "This can only be felt deeply as we stand united today, as our leaders stood united over 50 years ago, in our collective grief, healing, and strength.”

The school, once the largest in Canada's residential school system, still stands on Tk’emlúps reserve land on the banks of the South Thompson River.

On Thursday morning, Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc hosted a ceremony to honour the children who died at the residential school and their families left to grapple with that loss.

Hundreds arrived at the powwow arbor for a socially distanced drumming ceremony and memorial.

The community gathered at the Tk'emlups arbor grounds for a ceremony to honour the children who died at the former Kamloops Residential School.
The community gathered at the Tk'emlups arbor grounds for a ceremony to honour the children who died at the former Kamloops Residential School.

Media was asked to stay clear and not impose on the event.

“This is tragic and absolutely devastating,” Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said in a media release. “We cannot begin to imagine the pain this discovery has caused, but we share your sorrow.”

In a statement from the Thompson Nicola Regional District offered condolences and support for the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. 

"We acknowledge the shameful truths about residential schools and understand the importance of recognizing this history to foster greater truth and reconciliation in the future," the statement from the regional district reads.

The Kamloops school operated between 1890 and 1969. The federal government took over the operation from the Catholic Church to operate as a day school until it closed in 1978.

In response to the preliminary findings on Tk'emlups land, the Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver, J. Michael Miller said in media release he is filled with "deep sadness" at the news.

"The pain that such news causes reminds us of our ongoing need to bring to light every tragic situation that occurred in residential schools run by the Church," Miller said. "The passage of time does not erase the suffering that touches the Indigenous communities affected, and we pledge to do whatever we can to heal that suffering."

Bishop of Kamloops, Joseph Nguyen joined Miller in his expression of sympathy and offered support and prayers to families affected by the uncovering at the former school.

"I express my deepest sympathy to Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc Nation and to all who are mourning this tragedy and an unspeakable loss," Nguyen said in the release. "No words of sorrow could adequately describe this horrific discovery."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report on residential schools more than five years ago. The nearly 4,000-page account details the harsh mistreatment inflicted on Indigenous children at the institutions, where at least 3,200 children died amid abuse and neglect.

The heritage site remains closed to the public as work continues. More details are expected to follow as the preliminary findings are finalized.

— With files from The Canadian Press

— This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. Friday, May 28, 2021 to include comment from the Catholic Church and TNRD.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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