The remains of 215 children, some as young as three, have been found buried at the site of what was once Canada’s largest indigenous residential school, built to facilitate the integration of the ethnic population.
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At the Kamloops Indian Residential School, in the Canadian province of British Columbia, forensics are working to determine the exact cause and date of the deaths, reports Canadian public television, CBC.
“As far as we know, those of these missing children are undocumented deaths. Some were only three years old,” said the head of the Kamloops community, Rosanne Casimir.
These types of schools were created in the 19th and 20th centuries to forcibly assimilate young Indians and were financed by the state and run by religious organizations.
The Kamloops school was the largest in the country, opened in 1890 under Catholic administration, and served about 500 students at its peak in the 1950s.
In 1969 the federal government took over its management and turned it into a student residence and that is how it worked until its closure in 1978.
The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation has officially confirmed 51 deaths at the school, but the new research points to a large number of previously unrecorded deaths.
The center maintains archives created from the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which officially concluded in December 2015 with the publication of a final multi-volume report that concluded that the school system constituted a cultural genocide.
Between 1863 and 1998 it is estimated that more than 150,000 indigenous minors were uprooted from their homes and placed in these schools where they were not allowed to speak their language or express their culture and where mistreatment and abuse were frequent.
The Lost Children Project has so far identified more than 4,100 minors who died during their stay in boarding schools and many of them were buried in the school grounds themselves.
The event has renewed calls for the Catholic Church to apologize for its role in 19th and 20th century Canadian politics that saw indigenous children removed from their families to attend state-funded residential schools.
At least 150,000 boys and girls who attended schools between 1883 and 1996 to assimilate into Canadian society encountered neglect and abuse, as their native languages and cultures were prohibited.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has recognized these events as a “painful reminder” of “a shameful chapter in our country’s history.”