The discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Canada has reopened wounds for survivors of the system, they said, as the government pledged to spend previously promised money to search for more unmarked graves.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc indigenous nation in British Columbia announced last week it had found the remains of 215 children, some as young as three, buried at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, once Canada’s largest such school.
Between 1831 and 1996, Canada’s residential school system forcibly separated about 150,000 children from their homes and subjected them to abuse, rape and malnutrition at schools across the country in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide”.
Run by the government and church groups, the schools’ stated aim was to assimilate indigenous children.
Saa Hiil Thut, who spent his teenage years at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, remembers the hunger, the loneliness and the fear.
“My life became hateful to me,” the 72-year-old St’at’imc Nation member told Reuters. He was sexually abused by one of the staff, he said, and remembers lying in bed in the silent dormitory, weeping.
“I couldn’t help but think it’s monsters that done this, to put bodies in an unmarked grave site.”
Amid growing outrage, the federal government said on Wednesday it will urgently disburse money promised two years ago to indigenous communities that want to search former school sites for the remains of children.
In 2019, the government promised C$33.8 million ($28.1 million) over three years to support, among other things, locating the bodies of children who attended the schools. Of that, C$27.1 million has yet to be spent.