Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the discovery as a "painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter" of the nation's history.
Chief Rosanna Casimir confirmed the remains, some of whom as young as 3 years old, in the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The remains were discovered using a radar specialist, who has yet to complete a survey of the school's grounds, Casimir said. Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk'emlups te Secwépemc First Nation said in a news release that the remains were confirmed last weekend with the help of ground-penetrating radar. Additional bodies may be found as there are more areas to search at the school. In an earlier release, Casimir called the discovery an "unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented at the Kamloops Indian Residential School." From the 19th century until the mid 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into the county's social structure. Most were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages and many were beaten, verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.
The Canadian government apologized in Parliament in 2008 and admitted that physical and sexual abuse in the schools was rampant. Many students recall being beaten for speaking their native languages; they also lost touch with their parents and customs.
Indigenous leaders have cited that legacy of abuse and isolation as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations. A report more than five years ago by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission said at least 3,200 children had died amid abuse and neglect, and it said it had reports of at least 51 deaths at the Kamloops school alone between 1915 and 1963.
"This really resurfaces the issue of residential schools and the wounds from this legacy of genocide towards Indigenous people," Terry Teegee, Assembly of First Nations regional chief for British Colombia, said Friday...
ABC NEWS reports that Trudeau said the discovery "breaks my heart." The Canadian government apologized for the residential schools system in 2008, but Pope Francis has not apologized for the role of the Catholic Church, which operated around two-thirds of the schools, according to The Associated Press.
"The mistreatment of Indigenous children is a tragic and shameful part of Canada's history," the lawmaker Carolyn Bennett, who serves as the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, said in a statement. "Residential schools were part of a colonial policy that removed Indigenous children from their communities. ... We remain committed to supporting survivors, their families and communities through their healing journeys."