This week saw the discovery of something outside Kamloops, B.C., rarely seen in North America, much less in any corner of the developed world: Unmarked and previously forgotten graves, all belonging to children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc calls the discovery “unthinkable.”
The band confirmed on Thursday that it has found the remains of 215 children buried on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Chief Rosanne Casimir said the presence of the remains was “a knowing” in the Tk’emlups community, but was confirmed this past weekend with the help of a ground-penetrating radar specialist.
The Tk’emlups Heritage Park is closed to the public as work continues, with the potential that crews may find more remains. The children, some as young as three, were students at the school, which was once the largest in Canada’s residential school system.
Casimir said it’s believed the deaths are undocumented, though the Secwepemc Museum’s archivist is working with the Royal British Columbia Museum to see if any records of the deaths can be found. She said leadership of the Tk’emlups community “acknowledges their responsibility to caretake for these lost children.”
“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,” said Casimir in a news release. Kamloops Indian Residential School operated from 1890 to 1969, with peak enrollment of 500 in the 1950s.
The federal government took over administration of the school from 1969 to 1978, using the building as a residence for students attending other Kamloops schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission said large numbers of Indigenous children either ran away from residential schools or died at the schools, their whereabouts unknown.