The Kamloops Indian Residential School, circa 1930. (Photograph COURTESY ARCHIVES DESCHÂTELETS-NDC, RICHELIEU/Kamloops This Week)

The Kamloops Indian Residential School, circa 1930. (Photograph COURTESY ARCHIVES DESCHÂTELETS-NDC, RICHELIEU/Kamloops This Week)

Remains of 215 children found at former B.C. residential school an ‘unthinkable loss’

Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation is reaching out to communities who had children attend

  • May. 28, 2021 7:24 a.m.

Kamloops This Week

The Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation has confirmed that the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School have been found on the reserve using ground-penetrating radar.

In a release, Chief Rosanne Casimir calls the discovery an “unthinkable loss that was spoken about, but never documented by the Kamloops Indian Residential School,” which was the largest school in the country’s Indian Affairs residential school system.

“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Casimir said. “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.”

This work was undertaken by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Language and Culture Department, with ceremonial Knowledge Keepers who ensured that the work was conducted respectfully in light of the serious nature of the investigation with cultural protocols being upheld.

Casimir said that, given that the children are buried within the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community, and with all community members still grappling with the effects of residential school, chief and council first reached out to their community members to make them aware of the situation, contact that continues.

Casimir said Tk’emlúps will continue to work with the ground-penetrating radar specialist to complete the survey of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School grounds, which are at the corner of Highway 5 and Shuswap Road.

Preliminary work in confirming that the remains of the children were on the reserve began in the early 2000s, Casimir said, with the radar technology confirming the stories.

“We are thankful for the Pathway to Healing grant we received to undertake this important work,” Casimir said. “Given the size of the school, with up to 500 students registered and attending at any one time, we understand that this confirmed loss affects First Nations communities across British Columbia and beyond. We wish to ensure that our community members, as well as all home communities for the children who attended are duly informed. 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.”

Read more: Residential-school survivors call on Ottawa and provinces for monuments

Read more: Top court to hear federal government’s appeal on residential school records

Tk’emlups is now in communication with the BC Coroners Service, reaching out to the home communities who had children who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School and taking measures to ensure the locations of the remains are protected. In addition, the Secwépemc Museum Archivist is working with the Royal British Columbia Museum, amongst others, to seek out any existing records of the deaths.

Tk’emlups’ Heritage Park is closed to the public and no one will be permitted on site for the duration of the work. The band is expected to complete preliminary findings by mid- June and will be providing updates as they become available.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) noted that large numbers of Indigenous children who were sent to residential schools never returned to their home communities. Some children ran away and others died at the schools. The students who did not return have come to be known as the Missing Children. The Missing Children Project documents the deaths and the burial places of children who died while attending the schools. To date, more than 4,100 children who died while attending a residential school have been identified.

The Kamloops Industrial School (later known as the Kamloops Indian Residential School) was opened, under Roman Catholic administration, in 1890. It was part of the Canadian residential school system, established as part of the government policy of forced assimilation that resulted in the oppression of generations of Indigenous children. It was one of more than 130 such schools that operated in Canada between 1874 and 1996.

Located on the traditional territory of the Secwépemc people, hundreds of Secwépemc and other First Nations children attended the Kamloops school. Students were sent there from as far away as Penticton, Hope, Mount Currie, Lillooet and even outside the province. Enrolment peaked in the early 1950s at 500. Children were forcibly removed from their homes once attendance became mandatory by law in the 1920s, with their parents under threat of prison if they refused. Students lived at the school from September to June, alienated from their family except for Christmas and Easter visits.

It became the largest school in the Indian Affairs residential school system. In 1969, the federal government took over the administration of the school, which no longer provided any classes and operated it as residence for students attending local day schools until 1978, when the residence was closed.

Home communities of students

Neskainlith, North Thompson, Kamloops, Pavilion, Penticton, Adam’s Lake, Bonaparte, Fountain, Douglas L., Okanagan, Quilchena, Shulus, Little Shuswap, Coldwater, L. Nicola, Bridge R. Enderby, Deadman’s Cr., Hope, Leon’s C., Cayoose, Salmon R., Canoe C., Lillooet, Mount Currie (Lilwat Nation), D’Arcy (Nquatqua), Seabird Island, Skwah, Kamloops, Union Bar, Head of L., Deroche, Spuzzum, Shalalth, Spalumcheen.

The B.C. society of Indian Residential School Survivors is offering toll-free telephone support for survivors at 1-800-721-0066.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

First NationsKamloops

Just Posted

EJ Dunn principal Darrin Olson, left, and Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Councils Richard Samuel, right, present Trey Kyte, second from left, with his Grades 2-3 Spring Festival 2021 winning poster. With them are Kytes fellow banner painters Liam Horbatch, Sybil Purwins and Macen Avery. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
SD70’s biennial First Nations spring festival goes virtual for 2021

Alberni Valley schools showcase Indigenous learnings from past year

Port Alberni court house (Alberni Valley News)
Coroners’ inquest into 2016 death of Port Alberni teen rescheduled for June 21

18-year-old Jocelyn George died of heart failure after spending time in jail cell

CELEBRATING IN STYLE
Members of the 2021 Alberni District Secondary School graduating class pose for a photo at McLean Mill National Historic Site on June 12. Graduates held their prom on Saturday, although things looked a little different due to COVID-19. See more on page A10. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Port Alberni 2021 grads celebrate prom with car cruise

Special event held at McLean Mill National Historic Site

The Port Alberni Bombers are one of the newest teams in the VIJHL. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Port Alberni Bombers to host first ID camp for roster spots

Roster spots for the Junior B team will be filled at the conclusion of the camp

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

A still image from security camera video recorded June 8 shows an individual lighting trash on fire in the doorway of 19+ Cannabis Store on Victoria Crescent. RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue are investigating numerous fires set in downtown Nanaimo in the past three months. (Photo submitted)
‘It’s out of control’: More than 20 fires set in downtown Nanaimo in past 3 months

Authorities asking business owners to keep dumpsters locked

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read