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

Jacqueline Pearce and Jean-Pierre Antonio received the BC Historical Federation Best Article Award on Saturday for their story about translating haiku written in the Tashme internment camp.
Article chronicling haiku in Japanese internment camp near Hope wins award

Tashme Haiku Club’s work was preserved and recently translated, authors write

Kindergarten kids from Evans elementary school in Chilliwack painted rocks with orange hearts and delivered them to Sto:lo Elders Lodge recently after learning about residential schools. (Laura Bridge photo)
Kindergarten class paints rocks with orange hearts in Chilliwack for local elders

‘Compassion and empathy’ being shown by kids learning about residential schools

Chilliwack potter Cathy Terepocki (left) and Indigenous enhancement teachers Val Tosoff (striped top) and Christine Seymour (fuchsia coat), along with students at Vedder middle school, look at some of the 500-plus pinch pots on Thursday, June 10 made by the kids to honour the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack students make hundreds of tiny clay pots in honour of 215 Indigenous children

‘I think the healing process has begun,’ says teacher about Vedder middle school project

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Webinar looks at sexual abuse prevention among adolescents

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA hosts free online session on June 15

Emergency services were on the scene of an apparent stabbing Friday afternoon (June 11) in the 2400 block of Countess Street in Abbotsford. (Photo: Kaytlin Harrison)
Two suspects arrested after apparent stabbing in Abbotsford

Incident occurs Friday afternoon in 2400 block of Countess Street

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read