The remains of 215 children, some three-year-olds, were found on the site of an indigenous children’s school, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was found to have expressed his grief on Friday.
The children were students at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia that was closed in 1978, according to Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation, who said the remains had been found with the help of a ground radar expert.
“We knew in our community that we were able to assure you,” Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir said in a statement. “At this time, we have more questions than answers.”
The Canadian boarding school system, which forcibly separates indigenous children from their families, commits “cultural killings,” a six-year investigation into the now obsolete program found in 2015.
The report documented the extreme physical abuse, rape, malnutrition, and other atrocities perpetrated by the majority of the 150,000 children who attended these schools, which are usually controlled by Christian churches representing Ottawa from the 1840s to the 1990s.
It found that more than 4,100 children had died while attending a boarding school. The deaths of 215 children buried on the premises of the once largest school in Canada are believed to have not been included in that figure and appear to have been without textbooks until this was discovered.
Trudeau tweeted that the news “breaks my heart – it is a sad reminder of this dark and disgraceful chapter in the history of our country.”
In 2008, the Canadian government officially apologized for the inconvenience.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation said it was involved with the case investigator and reached out to local communities with children attending the school. They expect the first discovery in mid-June.
In a statement, British Columbia Assembly of First Nations Regional Commissioner Terry Teegee called the discovery of such cemeteries an “urgent task” “that refreshes the grief and loss of all the first countries in British Columbia.”