A mass grave filled with the remains of 215 Indigenous children, some as young as three, has been found on the grounds of a former residential school in Canada that was known for physical, emotional and sexual abuse, reports said Friday.
The grisly discovery in the interior of southern British Columbia was made at the former Kamloops Indian residential school using ground-penetrating radar and announced late Thursday by the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc people, The Guardian reported.
“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Rosanne Casimir, the chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, said in a statement.
Casimir said at this stage, there are “more questions than answers” as it’s unknown how the kids died, or when, and it’s believed the deaths were never officially recorded.
The school was open between 1890 and 1978 and ran by the Roman Catholic Church as part of a network of institutions across Canada. They were created to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children by taking them from their homes and forbidding them from speaking their native languages or engaging in cultural practices, the outlet reported.
The schools were hotbeds for forced labor and physical, emotional and sexual abuse and at least 150,000 kids attended them throughout their existence, the outlet reported.
In 2015, a historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission probing the residential school’s history described them as a “culture of genocide” targeting Indigenous people in Canada.
Former attendees of the school told the commission the conditions were brutal — living spaces were unsanitary, insufficiently heated and “Every Indian student smelled of hunger,” one former pupil who attended in the 1920s said.
Outbreaks of measles, tuberculosis, influenza and other contagious diseases were rampant at the facility and many kids died as a result.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, told CBC the discovery confirms what the community has known for years — many kids were sent to the school and never returned.
“There may be reasons why they wouldn’t record the deaths properly and that they weren’t treated with dignity and respect because that was the whole purpose of the residential school … to take total control of Indian children, to remove their culture, identity and connection to their family,” she told the outlet.
Casimir told CBC that a report will be provided on the discovery next month and the findings are “preliminary.”