One of the shameful features of US history is its attempted genocide of the indigenous people here. Apart from the outright massacres, other attempts involved the erasure of their identities by destroying their language and culture. One means of doing so was a governmental policy involving the forcible abduction of Native American children from their parents and sending them to boarding schools where they were forbidden to practice any aspects of their culture and were forced to adopt those of white people.
I had not been aware that a similar shameful government policy had been carried out in Canada too until the news of the discovery of a mass grave that had been found with the remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, on the grounds of such a boarding school in British Columbia.
Rosanne Casimir, the chief of the community in British Columbia’s city of Kamloops, said the preliminary finding represented an unthinkable loss that was never documented by the school’s administrators.
Canada’s residential schools were compulsory boarding schools run by the government and religious authorities during the 19th and 20th Centuries with the aim of forcibly assimilating indigenous youth.
Kamloops Indian Residential School was the largest in the residential system. Opened under Roman Catholic administration in 1890, the school had as many as 500 students when enrolment peaked in the 1950s.
The central government took over administration of the school in 1969, operating it as a residence for local students until 1978, when it was closed.
From about 1863 to 1998, more than 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in these schools.
The children were often not allowed to speak their language or to practise their culture, and many were mistreated and abused.
A commission launched in 2008 to document the impacts of this system found that large numbers of indigenous children never returned to their home communities.
The landmark Truth and Reconciliation report, released in 2015, said the policy amounted to “cultural genocide”.
It is shocking that this was going on even as recently as 1998. The deaths of 215 children meant that on average more than two children per year were buried there. The school was run by Catholics so one can assume that they were baptized into the church. But that did not seem to prevent the school authorities from not giving these children a proper burial and instead secretly dumping them into a mass unmarked grave.