The buried remains of 215 indigenous children were found last month at the Indian Residential School in Kamloops in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Campaigns to promote investigations around the school – which was essentially a Catholic boarding school attended only by indigenous children – began about twenty years ago, driven by disturbing tales that have been circulating for some time in Canada and reporting stories of physical and psychological violence. , however, committed in a context characterized by poor hygienic conditions.
The discovery was made by a local indigenous group, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation (TteS), using a georadar, an instrument that allows you to investigate the subsoil through the analysis of electromagnetic waves, without excavating. According to Rosanne Casimir of TteS, one of the dead children was 3 years old. Casimir also added that he expects to find more remains of children, as the surveys will continue in the near future.
Kamloops College was run by the Church between 1890 and 1969 and for a time was the largest in Canada. Then, when the school system came completely under government management, it was shut down. The reports of the time, carried out by medical personnel, report the presence of children with serious problems of malnutrition, and there are similar stories that also concern the other Canadian boarding schools reserved for indigenous people, largely active since the end of the nineteenth century.
In those years the descendants of Canadian settlers had forced indigenous peoples to live in something very similar to the Indian reservations of the United States. The New York Times writes that they often used as an excuse some agreements of dubious legal value, with which they appropriated the land of the natives. At the same time, the government started a system to assimilate them culturally, sending the sons and daughters of the indigenous people to boarding schools such as Kamloops. The children were often forcibly taken from their families and forced to lose the customs and language of their people, which were forbidden at the boarding school.
A commemoration at the former Kamloops Indigenous Boarding School, in remembrance of the 215 dead children (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press via AP)
The Canadian government has for years been trying to at least re-emerge the stories of the suffering of many indigenous people who survived the boarding schools. A commission set up by the government and indigenous communities such as TteS took six years to collect the testimonies of 6,750 people, and in 2015 drew up a report concluding that the indigenous boarding system was a form of “cultural genocide.” Now the commission has become a permanent center, the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.
Some former college students recalled systematic episodes of abuse and sexual violence by the priests in charge of the colleges, which in some cases led to unwanted pregnancies among the students.
It is not known precisely how many boys and girls died in boarding schools for indigenous people. The 2015 report speaks of at least 4,100 dead and missing, but former judge Murray Sinclair, who led the commission, told the New York Times which most likely were “more than ten thousand”. Many of them died in accidents or trying to escape, but most of them from diseases and infections. When this happened, the school officials gave vague explanations to the parents, and usually the bodies were buried at the school and not handed over to the families to save travel costs.
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