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WARNING: This story has disturbing details about residential and boarding schools. If you are feeling triggered, here is a resource list for trauma responses from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition in the U.S. The National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline in Canada can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.

Miles Morrisseau
Indian Country Today

A day of commemoration and condolences by the Queen of England’s representative in Canada marked one year since the remains of 215 missing children were revealed at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

It was May 23, 2021, when the Tk'emlups Te Secwepemc First Nation announced that the remains had been found in unmarked graves around the school.

On Monday, Governor General of Canada Mary Simon, Dene, who is the symbolic head of Canada and serves as the Queen’s representative, spoke to the school survivors and families gathered for a memorial ceremony.

“You knew what happened here,” said Simon, the first Indigenous woman to serve as governor general. “The atrocities, the deaths, the loss and the silence. So many children gone. So much possibility gone.”

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Simon said the story has always been known to the survivors and their families.

“It has been called a discovery – the discovery of unmarked graves of children cruelly ripped away from this life too soon,” she said. “But it isn't a discovery so much as a confirmation of your experiences and knowledge passed down from generation to generation. And now everyone knows. It shouldn't have taken that long. But finally, people know.”

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The Kamloops school was part of Canada’s Indian residential school system that had its roots in the missionary schools of the 1600s, long before Canada came into existence in 1867. In 1894, all First Nations children over the age of 7 were required by law to attend, creating an official partnership between the government and the churches who ran the schools. It was cultural and spiritual genocide, and as the evidencea year agorevealed, sometimes murderous in its neglect and intent.

In the year since Tk'emlups Te Secwepemc’s revelation evidence of thousands more unmarked graves have been revealed in less than a dozen of the residential schools that have begun their own deeper investigation into stories long told and held. There are 130 federal residential schools recognized by the government but hundreds of other trade, farm and day schools were weaved into the same the inescapable web.

In the Secwepemc, the children are called Le Estcwicwe̓y̓ — The Missing.

Kamloops Indian Residential School survivor Camille Kenoras holds eagle feathers as she listens during a ceremony on May 23, 2022, to mark the one-year anniversary of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation's announcement of the detection of the remains of 215 children at an unmarked burial site at the former school in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

“I consider this a sacred responsibility as governor general, as an honorary witness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and as a mother and a grandmother and a great-grandmother,” Simon said. “This is a responsibility all Canadians share. We all need to listen; we all need to understand. It is important that we teach the real history in our schools – the good and the bad.

“By incorporating this truth into our curriculum, we make sure the next generation grows up dedicated to building and restoring relationships, to reconciliation, to seeing things differently, and to valuing Indigenous knowledge and stories.”

Chief Roseanne Casimir of the Tk'emlups Te Secwepemc nation called for reconciliation and reparations, and held out hope that Pope Francis would visit the community this summer when he travels to Canada.

“My hope is for reconciliation,” Casmir said. “And I'm going to hold on to that hope. And that reparations are mandated from the highest levels and that leadership, and everyone participates in that journey. I do share my disappointment. I am disappointed that the Pope is not coming here. I really am. I advocated very hard. But what I am not disappointed in is that he is coming to Canada, he is going to be on Canadian soil. He is going to be meeting with so many of our Indigenous peoples in his travels throughout the nation.”

Pope Francis will be making a pastoral visit to Canada July 24-29 and will be meeting with a number of Indigenous delegations at that time. The Pope will be making three stops – in Quebec City, Quebec; Edmonton, Alberta; and Iqaluit, Nunuvut – but he is not scheduled to visit British Columbia.

Simon commended the community for taking on such a difficult and important task and offered condolences on behalf of all Canadians.

“You never gave up,” she said. “You continue to tell your stories, continue to tell these children's stories. Together, you confront this painful past. Together, you will make sure these children are brought home. And together we will continue building a better future for indigenous peoples.

“On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my sincerest condolences,” she said. “We mourn with you. We stand with you. We believe you.”

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