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Remains of 215 children found buried at former B.C. residential school, First Nation says

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Preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential school have uncovered the remains of 215 children buried at the site, the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation said Thursday.

They say the remains were confirmed last weekend near the city of Kamloops in B.C.’s southern Interior. 

In a media release, Tk’emlups te Secwépemc says they hired a specialist in ground-penetrating radar to carry out the work, and that their language and culture department oversaw the project to ensure it was done in a culturally appropriate and respectful way. The release did not specify the company or individual involved, or how the work was completed. 

“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Tk’emlups te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said in a statement.

“Some were as young as three years old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children.” 

Casimir told CBC that the findings are ‘preliminary’ and a report will be provided by the specialist next month. 

Tk’emlups te Secwépemc said they are taking the “necessary steps,” including working with the BC Coroners Service, contacting the students’ home communities, protecting the remains and working with museums to find records of these deaths. 

CBC has contacted the Coroners Service for more details, but has not heard back.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was in operation from 1890 to 1969, when the federal government took over operation from the Catholic church to operate as a day school until it closed in 1978.

According to Casimir, up to 500 students would have been registered at any given time, and those children would have come from First Nations communities across B.C., and beyond. 

“This is the beginning but, given the nature of this news, we felt it important to share immediately. At this time we have more questions than answers. We look forward to providing updates as they become available,” Casimir said. 

To date the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has identified the names of, or information about, more than 4,100 children who died while attending a residential school. The exact number of children who died while attending residential schools remains unknown, but the TRC says large numbers of Indigenous children who were sent to residential schools never returned home.

In a tweet Thursday evening, federal Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller said he has been in touch with Casimir to offer his support.

Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett said in a tweet that the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available for former residential school students and others looking for support. It can be utilized by calling 1-866-925-4419.

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