The flag at half mast at the Ktunaxa Nation Government Buildling in Cranbrook, Monday, May 31. Corey Bullock photo

MLA writes of “terrible and tragic discovery” at former residential school

Flags at half-mast after remains of 215 children discovered near Kamloops

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka says the recent discovery of a mass grave for at least 215 indigenous children at the Kamloops Residential school is a stark truth about Canada’s “dark history.”

Shypitka wrote on his MLA Facebook page that the findings confirmed “an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented.”

“To me personally this is so sickening it is hard to post my thoughts in fear of understating one of the most gut wrenching events I have ever been made aware of,” Shypitka wrote.

The Ktuanxa Nation Building in Cranbrook, the City of Cranbrook, and the City of Fernie also lowered its flags to half mast in recognition of the tragic discovery.

Preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops uncovered the remains of 215 children buried at the site, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said last Thursday.

The First Nation said the remains were confirmed near the city of Kamloops.

In a statement, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc said they hired a specialist in ground-penetrating radar to carry out the work, and that their language and culture department oversaw the project to ensure it was done in a culturally appropriate and respectful way. The release did not specify the company or individual involved, or how the work was completed.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was part of the Canadian Indian residential school system. Located in Kamloops, it was once the largest residential school in Canada, with its enrolment peaking at 500 in the 1950s.

The residential school was operated by the Catholic Church from 1890 to 1969. The Federal government then took over the facility and ran it as a day school until it closed down in 1978.

In Canada, the Indian residential school system was a network of boarding schools for Indigenous peoples. Over the course of the system’s more than hundred-year existence, around 150,000 were placed in residential schools nationally. By the 1930s about 30 percent of Indigenous children were believed to be attending residential schools. The number of school-related deaths remains unknown due to an incomplete historical record, though estimates range from 3,200 to upwards of 6,000.

One of these schools was the Kootenay Indian Residential School (composed of the St. Eugene’s and St. Mary’s schools), run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate of the Roman Catholic Church. It was opened in 1912, operated at the 1897-built St. Eugene Church, and closed in 1970. Between 1912 and 1970, over 5,000 children have attended the school.

“We all need to hear and learn the stories that come from the investigations that will follow in the coming days and months and truly add them to the collective of other truths we are all beginning to learn,” Shypitka said.

“I think of my constituents and friends in the Ktunaxa communities across Kootenay East and I give my heart-felt support in what is a terrible and tragic discovery.

“Let us all pray for these 215 beautiful souls.”

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is offering toll-free 24-hour telephone support for survivors and their families at 1 (866) 925-4419. Alternately, you can reach out to the KUU-US Crisis Line Society 24-hour line at 1-800-588-8717.

With files from Wikipedia