At the end of May, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nations government announced that the remains of 215 unidentified children had been found in an unmarked grave on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada.
The horrifying discovery confirms what many in the community who attended the school or had relatives who did, already knew: “these missing children are undocumented deaths.”
The Kamloops school ran until it was shut down in the 1970s, and was one of 130 residential schools in Canada. Parents were forced to give their children up to these schools, where the goal was to strip indigenous children of their connection to their families, language, and culture. Children were psychologically and often physically abused, and the effects of such prolonged, traumatic experiences are still felt in indigenous communities today.
In 2019, the Canadian government acknowledged the “harm inflicted on indigenous peoples in Canada amounted to genocide.”
Yet such tactics were not unique to Canada; in fact, the concept of residential schools actually began in the United States. The idea behind these boarding schools, which opened in 1860, was to forcibly remove Native children, in turn isolating them from their families and culture, thus furthering the US government’s goal of weakening indigenous nations and tribal sovereignty.
By the 1920s, more than 20,000 Native children had been removed from their homes and placed in these boarding schools. In just the 40 years that one school operated, more than 200 children died at the hands of school staff, via medical neglect or other abuse.
The phasing out of these institutions, however, did not end the government’s project of removing Native children from their families. The video below (beginning at 6:35) details how in the 1950s and 60s, the government shifted focus from residential schools to using the child welfare system to take indigenous children from their homes and place them with white families.
For more information on residential schools and healing from generational trauma, click here.
Click here to watch Dawnland, a film about the Maine-Wabanaki truth and reconciliation commission.