Mass grave of 215 indigenous children reported in Canada

Ottawa, Ontario: For decades, most Indigenous children in Canada were taken from their families and forced into boarding schools. A large number never returned home, their families given only vague explanations, or none at all.

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Now an Indigenous community in British Columbia says it has found evidence of what happened to some of its missing children: a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children on the grounds of a former residential school.

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Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said on Friday that ground-penetrating radar had discovered the remains near the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which operated from 1890 until the late 1970s.

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“It’s a harsh reality and it’s our truth, it’s our history,” Casimir said at a news conference. “And it’s something that we’ve always had to fight to prove. To me, it’s always been a horrible, horrible history.”

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The remains, which Casimir described as “many, many years old – decades,” included those of children as young as 3.

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Starting in the 19th century, Canada was home to a system of residential schools, mostly operated by churches, that Indigenous children were forced to attend. The system went into decline during the 1970s, with the last school closing in 1996.

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A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up as part of a government apology and settlement over the schools, concluded that at least 4,100 students died while attending the schools, many from mistreatment or neglect, others from disease or accident.

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While there have long been rumours of unmarked graves at schools, if the findings are confirmed, it will be the first time a major burial site has been discovered.

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Kamloops, once the largest residential school in Canada, with about 500 pupils at its peak, was operated by the Catholic Church until 1969, when the federal government took over.

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Unlike other religious groups that operated the residential schools, the Catholic Church has refused to formally apologise for abuses that occurred within them. In 2018, Pope Francis rejected a direct appeal for an apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded in 2015 that residential schools were a program of “cultural genocide.” The use of Indigenous languages was banned at the schools, sometimes through the use of violence, as were Indigenous cultural practices.

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