Discovery ‘unthinkable’ in Canada: remains of 215 children found buried near boarding school
“I lost my heart, it was so hurt and painful to finally hear, for the outside world, to finally hear what we assumed was going on there,” said Harvey McLeod, who has attended school for two years in the late 1960s, in a phone interview with CNN on Friday.
“The story is so unreal, that yesterday it became real for many of us in this community,” he said.
“Last weekend, with the help of a ground-penetrating radar specialist, the plain truth of the preliminary results was revealed – confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students at Kamloops Indian Residential School” , said Chef Rosanne Casimir. of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community.
“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented dead,” she said in the statement.
“Sometimes people didn’t come back, we were happy for them, we thought they had run away, not knowing if they did or what happened to them,” said McLeod, who is now Chief of the Upper Nicola Band in British Columbia.
“There were discussions that it could have happened, that they could have passed,” he said, adding: “What I realized yesterday was how strong I was, as a little boy, how strong I was to be here today, because I know a lot of people haven’t made it home. “
The Kamloops Indian Residential School was one of the largest in Canada and operated from the late 19th century to the late 1970s. It was opened and operated by the Catholic Church until the federal government l resumed in the late 1960s.
It closed permanently about a decade later and now houses a museum and community facility with cultural and commemorative events.
“We recognize the tragic and heartbreaking devastation that Canada’s residential school system has inflicted on so many people, and our hearts go out to all who mourn today,” she said.
The report details decades of physical, sexual and emotional abuse suffered by children in government and religious institutions.
“ Horrible Chapter in Canadian History ”
In an interview with CNN, Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations of Canada, said the revelation speaks to all Canadians of a “very painful truth” and a “horrific chapter in Canadian history”.
“That’s why five of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action called for us to deal with the missing children and unmarked graves, because they knew there was so much more than they needed. had been able to observe during the hearings, ”he added. Bennett said.
In 2019, Trudeau said he and his government had accepted the harm inflicted on Canada’s Indigenous peoples amounted to genocide, saying at the time that the government would move forward to “end this ongoing tragedy.” .
McLeod says the residential school system marked generations in his family and the abuse he suffered at Kamloops school terrorized him, his family and his classmates.
“The abuse that happened to me was physical, yes, was sexual, yes, and in 1966 I was a person who didn’t want to live anymore, that changed me,” McLeod said, comparing the trauma he suffered to that of a prisoner of war.
He says he entered school in 1966 with most of his siblings.
“Seven of us went to the same time, the same school my mom and dad went to, there was no option, it was an obligation, it was the law. And I can only imagine what my mom and dad, how they felt, when they left some of us there knowing what they had been through in that school, ”he said. he says.
As documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, many residential school children did not receive adequate medical care and some died prematurely from diseases such as tuberculosis.
The commission estimates that more than 4,000 children died in residential schools over a period of several decades, but the commission’s final report acknowledges that it was impossible to know the real number.
McLeod says this week’s discovery at his old school has already helped community members he knows discuss the abuse they’ve suffered and the intergenerational trauma they’ve caused.
He says he would love to be engaged in healing and now wants to avoid pointing fingers or blaming.
“I forgave, I forgave my parents, I forgave my attackers, I broke the chain that held me in this school, I no longer want to live there but at the same time make sure that people who have not returned home are recognized and respected and brought home the right way, ”he said.