Canada mourns the loss of 215 children whose remains were discovered at an indigenous school.
On Sunday, Canada’s flags were flown at half-mast in remembrance of the 215 children whose remains were discovered on the grounds of a former boarding school established more than a century ago to assimilate indigenous peoples.
“To honour 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.
Several municipalities, including the economic powerhouse Toronto, have announced that their flags will be lowered as well.
The discovery of the children’s remains, some of whom were as young as three years old, sparked strong emotions across Canada, particularly in indigenous communities.
The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc tribe said late Thursday that a specialist used ground-penetrating radar to confirm the remains of the students who attended the school near Kamloops, British Columbia.
With up to 500 students registered and attending at any given time, the Kamloops Indian Residential School was the largest of 139 boarding schools established in the late nineteenth century.
From 1890 to 1969, it was run by the Catholic Church on behalf of the Canadian government.
Approximately 150,000 Indian, Inuit, and Metis children were forcibly enrolled in these schools, where they 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 in their communities, as well as high suicide rates.
As part of a Can$1.9 billion (US$1.6 billion) settlement with former students, Ottawa formally apologized in 2008 for what the commission later called a “cultural genocide.”
“I’ve said before that the residential schools was a genocide of our people. Here’s just another glowing example of that genocide in practice: undocumented deaths of children,” Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, stated on the news channel CTV on Sunday.
Bellegarde stated that there was still much work to be done in identifying the remains, locating their families, and investigating the locations of other residential schools.
According to him, the federal government “has a responsibility to ensure that these resources are in place to get the answers.”
Ceremonies to honor the young victims were held or were scheduled to be held across the country. On Sunday, about 100 people gathered in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, near Montreal.
As a tribute to the victims, participants placed children’s shoes and toys on the steps of the Saint Francis Xavier church.