Kamloops is in shock. The city in British Columbia, in western Canada, mourns its children. Citizens of the 90,000-inhabitant city and representatives of the “First Nations” make a pilgrimage to the site of the former “Kamploops Indian Residential School”. They say prayers and put down flowers, teddy bears and children’s shoes and moccasins. The past has caught up with Canada once again. Although one believed that they had long since been further.
A week ago, Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc announced that the remains of 215 children had been discovered using ground-penetrating radar technology – near the school where children of Canadian indigenous people were taught between 1890 and 1978, that is, forced schooling were. They were torn from their families. They should forget their culture. Western civilization was on the curriculum. Representatives of the “First Nations” researched for years. The mass grave has now been cordoned off. Citizens have tied ribbons on the fence – one for every child’s soul. United Nations human rights experts called on Canada to investigate the exact causes of death.
It was a bitter reality, said Chief Casimir. They fought for so long to be able to prove it. Many children never returned home. There have been reports of malnutrition, neglect, flu epidemics and tuberculosis. But also about violence and sexual violence. And about psychological terror. It was a terrible story, continued Casimir. The remains are decades old. Some were from children who were only three years old.
A “cultural genocide”
There were more than 130 residential schools across Canada; around 150,000 indigenous children were educated there. The schools were mostly run by the churches. The Catholic Church ran 60 percent of the facilities, the last of which was closed in the 1990s. In 2008, the Ottawa government set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to review the history of residential schools and give former students the opportunity to make their experiences public. More than 7,000 testimonies were collected.
But it wasn’t just about documenting history. The “Missing Children” project also emerged from the commission. The final report, which was presented at the end of 2015, stated that around 3,200 children had died in the facilities. The “National Center for Truth and Reconciliation” even gives the number as 4,100. Of the 70,000 graduates who were still alive at the time, more than 30,000 are said to have been victims of sexual violence. The commission concluded that the forced admissions aimed at removing the children from the influence of their traditional culture amounted to “cultural genocide”.
Children are losing their culture, their language, their identity
In 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the residential school system on behalf of the Canadian people. While representatives of the Anglican and United Churches in Canada, which also ran boarding schools for natives, also asked for forgiveness, the Catholic Church refused to take this step. In addition, the church, which should have paid 25 million Canadian dollars as part of an agreement with survivors, donated only a fraction. It is also complained that individual Catholic institutions did not grant access to files. Others, such as the Jesuits, are cooperative.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who made reconciliation with the indigenous population the focus of his government, has now sharply criticized the Catholic Church: As a Catholic, he is disappointed with the position that the Church has taken for years. He recalled that in 2017 at the Vatican he asked Pope Francis to apologize and allow access to the files on the matter.
“We are still encountering resistance,” said Trudeau. However, he is confident that there will be no legal dispute, but that the church will have an understanding. The fact that indigenous children are still being removed from their communities and placed in foster families must stop. The children are losing their culture, their language, their identity. Pope Francis said on Sunday: “It is with pain that I follow the news from Canada about the shocking discovery of the remains of 215 children.” Together with the entire Catholic Church, he wants to be “close to the Canadian people who are traumatized by this shocking news” . Government and church authorities should continue to work together resolutely “to shed light on this sad matter”.