We are heartbroken by the discovery of the remains of 215 children in a mass grave at a former residential school in British Columbia. It is an unthinkable number, and represents the unmitigated and profound injustice inflicted upon Indigenous families in this country, which remains unresolved.
Children often faced physical, sexual and emotional abuse in these residential schools. Thousands died of disease and severe neglect.
These children never made it home to their families. They were often buried in unmarked graves like the ones found in Kamloops, and their parents were never told what happened. While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) estimates that over 4,000 children died in these schools, we don’t know the actual number because deaths went undocumented. We also don’t know where other burial sites might be because so few are officially documented and even fewer maintained.
This is why we support the calls from Indigenous leaders and the TRC report for the federal government to create an online registry of residential school burials, and to work with impacted groups to develop a plan for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance and commemoration of burial sites. The TRC requested $1.5 million in funding to search for unmarked graves in 2009, but that funding was denied by the federal government. It’s time for this funding to come through.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and anyone affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.