The Missing and Lost Children of “Indian Residential Schools”
On May 27, 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secweìpemc First Nation issued a press release which confirmed that the bodies of 215 children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School (IRS) had been discovered using ground penetrating radar. To many in Canada this was shocking. However, one does not have to look far to see that unfortunately this was not an uncommon outcome from the IRS system. The truth is, the survivors knew and spoke about it, and the government has long known that there are many children who never returned home from IRS as result of their deaths.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued its final reports. One report titled, “Where are the Children Buried?” was written to address the many missing and lost children who never returned from residential school. The report points out that there are many more unmarked graves to be located. The task of locating where the children are buried is difficult for a variety of reasons including passage of time, lack of records, and schools being torn down and rebuilt in different locations.
Residential schools operated for 140 years, the last one closing in 1996. Over those years it is estimated that at least 3,213 children are reported to have died while at the schools. The experts suggest that this number is a conservative number as a result of the poor records keeping and document retention.
The question often asked is how did these children die? Over the course of the IRS’ operation, many communicable diseases swept through the small, overcrowded, and unsanitary schools. Survivors have recounted that they were often not fed, clothed, or given proper nutrition. So communicable diseases spread easily in disgusting conditions that the children were forced to live in. A quick search of the internet will provide photos of what life at an IRS was like for the children. Lack of proper health care was as common then as it is now. The treatment of Indigenous People in Canada is still sub-standard to the care offered to many Canadians, as evidence by the recent death of Joyce Echaquan. Indigenous People in Canada are regularly mistreated by the health care system.
Unfortunately, the confirmation of the graves in Tk’emlúps te Secweìpemc, will not be the last discovery but there is much more work to be done to find these children.
PCLC urges you to read more, learn more, and support the efforts being undertaken Canada-wide to help find the missing and lost children of residential schools.
For more information on Residential Schools:
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports: https://nctr.ca/records/reports/
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Resources: http://www.trc.ca/resources.html
For documentaries on Residential Schools visit the National Film Board: https://www.nfb.ca/subjects/indigenous-peoples-in-canada-first-nations-and-metis/residential-schools/
Books to read to children: https://guides.library.ubc.ca/Indigenouschildrensliterature/irss