Canada has flown its flags at half-mast in mourning for 215 children whose remains were discovered on the grounds of a former boarding school set up more than a century ago to assimilate Indigenous children.
The former Kamloops Indian Residential school in B.C. was the largest of 139 boarding schools set up in the late 19th century, with up to 500 students registered and attending at any one time.
The discovery of the children’s remains, some as young as three, has sparked strong emotions throughout Canada, particularly in Indigenous communities. “To honor the 215 children whose lives were taken at the former Kamloops residential school and all Indigenous children who never made it home, the survivors, and their families, I have asked that the Peace Tower flag (in Ottawa) and flags on all federal buildings be flown at half-mast,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter on Sunday.
Several municipalities, including the economic metropolis Toronto, announced they would also lower their flags.
A specialist used ground-penetrating radar to confirm the students’ remains who attended the school near Kamloops, British Columbia, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc tribe said in a statement late on Thursday.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir said she was “taken back” and “shocked” when visiting the site. “When it was shared with me that these were children, our children, from our community…It was devastating,” she told Canadian news channel, CTV. “We do not want this to be hidden. We want this to come to resolve; we want people to know that this history is real, the loss of the children is real.”
The Kamloops Indian Residential School was the largest of 139 boarding schools set up in the late 19th century, with up to 500 students registered and attending at any one time.
It was operated by the Catholic church on behalf of the Canadian government from 1890 to 1969.
Some 150,000 Indian, Inuit, and Metis youths in total were forcibly enrolled in these schools, where students were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers who stripped them of their culture and language.
Today, those experiences are blamed for a high incidence of poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence, as well as increased suicide rates, in their communities.