The Kamloops Indian Residential School, circa 1930. (Photograph COURTESY ARCHIVES DESCHÂTELETS-NDC, RICHELIEU/Kamloops This Week)

The Kamloops Indian Residential School, circa 1930. (Photograph COURTESY ARCHIVES DESCHÂTELETS-NDC, RICHELIEU/Kamloops This Week)

Remains of 215 children found at former B.C. residential school an ‘unthinkable loss’

Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation is reaching out to communities who had children attend

  • May. 28, 2021 7:24 a.m.

Kamloops This Week

The Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation has confirmed that the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School have been found on the reserve using ground-penetrating radar.

In a release, Chief Rosanne Casimir calls the discovery an “unthinkable loss that was spoken about, but never documented by the Kamloops Indian Residential School,” which was the largest school in the country’s Indian Affairs residential school system.

“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Casimir said. “Some were as young as three years old. 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.”

This work was undertaken by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Language and Culture Department, with ceremonial Knowledge Keepers who ensured that the work was conducted respectfully in light of the serious nature of the investigation with cultural protocols being upheld.

Casimir said that, given that the children are buried within the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community, and with all community members still grappling with the effects of residential school, chief and council first reached out to their community members to make them aware of the situation, contact that continues.

Casimir said Tk’emlúps will continue to work with the ground-penetrating radar specialist to complete the survey of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School grounds, which are at the corner of Highway 5 and Shuswap Road.

Preliminary work in confirming that the remains of the children were on the reserve began in the early 2000s, Casimir said, with the radar technology confirming the stories.

“We are thankful for the Pathway to Healing grant we received to undertake this important work,” Casimir said. “Given the size of the school, with up to 500 students registered and attending at any one time, we understand that this confirmed loss affects First Nations communities across British Columbia and beyond. We wish to ensure that our community members, as well as all home communities for the children who attended are duly informed. This is the beginning, but given the nature of this news, we felt it important to share immediately. At this time, we have more questions than answers. We look forward to providing updates as they become available.”

Read more: Residential-school survivors call on Ottawa and provinces for monuments

Read more: Top court to hear federal government’s appeal on residential school records

Tk’emlups is now in communication with the BC Coroners Service, reaching out to the home communities who had children who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School and taking measures to ensure the locations of the remains are protected. In addition, the Secwépemc Museum Archivist is working with the Royal British Columbia Museum, amongst others, to seek out any existing records of the deaths.

Tk’emlups’ Heritage Park is closed to the public and no one will be permitted on site for the duration of the work. The band is expected to complete preliminary findings by mid- June and will be providing updates as they become available.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) noted that large numbers of Indigenous children who were sent to residential schools never returned to their home communities. Some children ran away and others died at the schools. The students who did not return have come to be known as the Missing Children. The Missing Children Project documents the deaths and the burial places of children who died while attending the schools. To date, more than 4,100 children who died while attending a residential school have been identified.

The Kamloops Industrial School (later known as the Kamloops Indian Residential School) was opened, under Roman Catholic administration, in 1890. It was part of the Canadian residential school system, established as part of the government policy of forced assimilation that resulted in the oppression of generations of Indigenous children. It was one of more than 130 such schools that operated in Canada between 1874 and 1996.

Located on the traditional territory of the Secwépemc people, hundreds of Secwépemc and other First Nations children attended the Kamloops school. Students were sent there from as far away as Penticton, Hope, Mount Currie, Lillooet and even outside the province. Enrolment peaked in the early 1950s at 500. Children were forcibly removed from their homes once attendance became mandatory by law in the 1920s, with their parents under threat of prison if they refused. Students lived at the school from September to June, alienated from their family except for Christmas and Easter visits.

It became the largest school in the Indian Affairs residential school system. In 1969, the federal government took over the administration of the school, which no longer provided any classes and operated it as residence for students attending local day schools until 1978, when the residence was closed.

Home communities of students

Neskainlith, North Thompson, Kamloops, Pavilion, Penticton, Adam’s Lake, Bonaparte, Fountain, Douglas L., Okanagan, Quilchena, Shulus, Little Shuswap, Coldwater, L. Nicola, Bridge R. Enderby, Deadman’s Cr., Hope, Leon’s C., Cayoose, Salmon R., Canoe C., Lillooet, Mount Currie (Lilwat Nation), D’Arcy (Nquatqua), Seabird Island, Skwah, Kamloops, Union Bar, Head of L., Deroche, Spuzzum, Shalalth, Spalumcheen.

The B.C. society of Indian Residential School Survivors is offering toll-free telephone support for survivors at 1-800-721-0066.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

First NationsKamloops

Just Posted

Pam Bottomley (executive director), right and Sandy Hurley (president) of the Parksville Downtown Business Association visit the PQB News/VI Free Daily studio. (Peter McCully photo)
PQBeat: Downtown Parksville gears up for post-pandemic bounce back

Podcast: Hurley, Bottomley chat about what’s ahead for the PDBA

(Black Press file photo)
RCMP: Air ambulance called to Whiskey Creek after crash involving 2 motorbikes

Both riders taken to hospital with serious injuries

(File photo)
Crime report: Crooks busy pilfering bikes throughout Parksville Qualicum Beach area

Thefts among 295 complaints Oceanside RCMP deal with in one-week period

The Arrowsmith Search and Rescue logo on the back of a service vehicle. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Parksville and Qualicum Beach provide letters of support for Arrowsmith Search and Rescue

ASAR asks for increase in funding, one-time capital grant and for RDN to buy out current facility

The proposed running track upgrade at Ballenas Secondary is now on course. (PQB News file photo)
RDN: Parksville track upgrade project gains some traction

Staff recommends board approve $204,000 funding

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Ivy was thrown out of a moving vehicle in Kelowna. Her tail was severely injured and will be amputated. (BC SPCA)
Kitten thrown from moving vehicle, needs help: Kelowna SPCA

The seven-month-old kitten had severe tail and femur injuries

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates that less than five per cent of mass-marketing fraud is ever reported.
Tips to avoid scams targeting Vancouver Island seniors

In most cases, fraudsters impersonate an individual, business or agency seniors recognize and trust

Vancouver courthouse. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Man loses bid to appeal conviction for 1999 rape at Abbotsford music festival

James Redden, 53, formerly of Nanaimo, was found guilty in 2019 following six-day trial

A health-care worker holds up a sign signalling she needs more COVID-19 vaccines at the ‘hockey hub’ mass vaccination facility at the CAA Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brampton, Ont., on Friday, June 4, 2021. This NHL-sized hockey rink is one of CanadaÕs largest vaccination centres. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘Vaxxed to the max’: Feds launch Ask an Expert campaign to encourage COVID shots

Survey shows that confidence in vaccines has risen this spring

Port Alberni court house (Alberni Valley News)
Inquest set into 2016 death of B.C. teen after a day spent in police custody

18-year-old Jocelyn George died of heart failure in hospital after spending time in jail cell

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Singer-songwriter Jann Arden is pictured with a draft horse. (Canadian Horse Defence Coalition)
Jann Arden backs petition to stop ‘appalling’ live horse export, slaughter

June 14 is the International Day to End Live Export of Animals

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

Most Read