By Bella Kaguyutan
Image Source: Vancouver Sun
In May of 2021 the remains of 215 indigineous children as young as 3 were discovered near a residential school in Kamloops British Columbia, Canada. These deaths were undocumented and the children were buried in unmarked graves.
The news of a mass grave was released on May 27th by Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation Chief, Rosanne Casimir. This mass grave was discovered through the use of ground-penetrating radar. They are working with the Royal British Columbia Museum to discover the identities of these unknown children. When children attending these schools died they rarely returned home, being buried in unmarked graves.
Across Canada many memorials have been set up in honor of the children who lost their lives while attending a residential school. One of the most notable memorials was displayed on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. 215 pairs of little shoes were placed on the steps to symbolize each of the bodies found in the mass grave site.
A bill that calls for a national holiday in remembrance was given royal assent and was fast-tracked through Canadian Parliament. This bill calls for a statutory holiday for federal government employees and federally-regulated workplaces. September 30th is now an official Canadian holiday, National Truth and Reconciliation Day or Orange Shirt Day. Many are also calling for a portion of the required curriculum across Canada to focus on residential schools.
The Kamloops Residential School was founded in 1893 as a part of the Indian Residential School System and was shut down in 1978. These schools were formed with the intention to strip the culture of indigenous children away. It is estimated that about 150,000 indigenous children were forcefully sent to these schools. And at least 4,100 children died in these schools as reported by the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
The children who attended residential schools were taken from their families and weren’t allowed to speak their native languages or practice their religion or culture. They were forced to use English or French and also followed Christian practices. This system has been linked to increased cases of PTSD, alcoholism, suicide, and substance abuse in the survivors of these residential schools. As of 2015, these schools were officially recognized as systematic cultural genocide.
A survivor of one of these residential schools spoke with CHEK news, a Canadian local news channel, saying, “For me, residential school was bad not only because they starved us but because they beat us for speaking our language and practicing our culture. They separated us from our family, and we forgot how to function as a family. We forgot how to love and care for our own brothers, our own sisters, and distress grew there.”
The deaths of indigenous peoples are often overlooked by the public both in residential schools 50 years ago and in the case of indigenous women today. The Orange Shirt non-profit works to spread awareness of what happened in residential schools. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Movement (MMIW) brings awareness to the disproportionate amount of crimes against indigenous people, mainly women. It is reported that in the United States, indigenous women are twice more likely to experience violence than any other demographic.