'Too many children did not make it home': Anniversary of discovery at Canada's largest residential school
Warning: This article contains disturbing details. Reader discretion is advised.
It's been a year since the announcement of the detection of unmarked graves at the site of what was once Canada's largest residential school – an announcement that for many Indigenous survivors was confirmation of what they already knew.
A daylong memorial brought dozens to Kamloops, B.C., Monday to mark the anniversary as work continues at the site, and to honour the children who never made it home.
A sunrise ceremony was held on the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc powwow grounds, not far from the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
It began with an opening prayer, and included an emotional speech from Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir.
"What scientific investigation confirmed were the truths about our survivors and what they've always known," she said.
"Too many children did not make it home."
PRIME MINISTER ATTENDS CEREMONY
The day to honour children who were taken from their homes and never made it back included cultural performances, dances, drumming and speeches, and closed with an evening prayer, attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Introducing Trudeau, Casimir noted both the pain and resilience of residential school survivors, their families and their communities.
"We have been damaged by the attack on our language and our culture arising from the forced removal of our children. We know those harms, but we also know what we're doing to revitalize that," she said.
Stressing the need for all levels of government to support and advance the work of reconciliation, Casimir said she hopes to see continued, concrete action.
Addressing those gathered, Trudeau faced some angry chants before proceeding with his remarks.
"I'm here with a simple message. We're here for you. We'll continue to remember the children who never returned and to support one another as we walk forward together on the shared path of reconciliation," he said.
"Some of the children who went missing would have been grandparents, great-grandparents. They would have been elders, knowledge-keepers and community leaders. It is on all of us to remember them and to honour them. As we look to build a better future together, it's on all of us to work together to make sure that every First Nation Inuit and Metis child grows up safe, proud of who they are."
'LIKE A WOUND BEING REOPENED'
Casimir said it's been a year of pain for some, describing the announcement made one year ago as "like a wound being reopened," but that it's also an opportunity for healing.
She said science will support the next steps, but that the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation is taking time, knowing the impact the investigation has on the community.
Casimir also noted the impact the discovery had on those outside the community, encouraging non-Indigenous people to want to learn more about Canada's hidden history.
"The unmarked graves brought truth to the world, and the world stood with us in solidarity and unity," she said.
Gov.-Gen. Mary Simon was at the sunrise ceremony, and said, simply, "You knew. You've known for so long."
Addressing survivors and their relatives, she said that the investigation has been called a discovery, but it's confirmation.
"You knew what happened here, the atrocities, the deaths, the loss. And the silence … And now everyone knows. It shouldn't have taken this long, but finally, people know."
Drummers play and sing during a ceremony to mark the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the detection of the remains of children at an unmarked burial site at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 23, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
(Ben Miljure / CTV News Vancouver)
DETAILS ON THE SEARCH
The search area was in part determined by the discoveries of a child's rib bone and a youth's tooth, and is the site of what was once an apple orchard, when the school was in operation.
Sarah Beaulieu, a professor at the University of the Fraser Valley and member of the search team, described what she found as "targets of interest" when outlining the technical side of the investigation last July.
While the only way to confirm what is in the graves is exhumation, according to experts behind the detection, the discovery matched stories from survivors of the school, some of whom described being woken up in the middle of the night to dig graves in the orchard.
Some of those children were as young as six.
Currently, the focus of the ongoing investigation in the Kamloops area is not excavation and forensic analysis but the search through ground-penetrating radar of the rest of the site, as only a small area of the grounds were examined in the initial study.
(Ben Miljure / CTV News Vancouver)
One of the people who attended the school as a child is Clayton Peters, who told The Canadian Press it was "the most horrible pain in the world to be a native, to be an Indian back then."
He and his brothers attended the Kamloops school in the late 1960s, into the 1970s, and said he remembers thinking that the kids who suddenly disappeared were the lucky ones.
"I'd always thought that they ran away like I did, that they made it, that they were free," he said, crying. Now he thinks some of those children's remains may be among those hidden under the orchard.
Before he was kicked out at the age of 17, Peters said, he was regularly beaten and molested. Children who spoke their own language were made to eat soap, he said, and they were also forced to scrub their bodies with lye to "take the brown off them."
When children fell ill, he said, they were put in a dark room rather than given treatment. The room was also used as punishment.
"I was sad all my life. When I left that school, I fought everybody. I fought every white man that bumped into me. I was so angry," he said.
Another survivor is Ron Ignace, who told CTV News last year he'd been beaten for speaking his mother tongue, but that he refused to abandon the Secwepemctsin language entirely.
"I thought in Secwepemctsin and spoke in English, knowing full well that they could not beat me for what I thought," he said in an interview on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
He ran away during a leave on his 16th birthday, and said he's living proof that the school system failed its goal, described by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a campaign of cultural genocide.
And what happened back then had a lasting impact.
"This is a heavy truth. It has been referred to as a historic dark chapter but Indigenous people are very much alive with the repercussions that they're living today," Kukpi7 Casimir said back in July.
It's important to remember that the Kamloops school is only one of 139 in the system.
Cutouts of orange T-shirts are hung on a fence outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, in Kamloops, B.C., on Thursday, July 15, 2021. (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
DISCOVERIES ACROSS CANADA
Many spoke about deaths and disappearances of children who attended the school, and other residential schools in Canada.
The Kamloops discovery marked a year of further investigations at school grounds across the country, and calls for truth, acknowledgment and apologies from both the Canadian government and the Catholic Church, which operated many institutions in the residential school system.
The Pope issued an apology earlier this year, and is planning a trip to Canada in the summer that will involve visits to First Nations communities, though none in British Columbia.
Casimir included in her opening remarks a thank you to members of the church, including a local bishop who's committed to working with Indigenous peoples towards reconciliation.
"We know that many of our people still practice Catholicism. We all need to have faith, we all need to have hope, we all pray to the one creator, the one god."
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Ben Miljure in Kamloops, B.C., Lisa Steacy, and The Canadian Press
People are silhouetted as they walk past the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after gathering to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to be buried near the facility, in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. The year since the the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced that ground-penetrating radar had located the suspected grave sites in a former apple orchard has been one of national reckoning about residential schools in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll free line at 1-800-721-0066.
Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.
Vancouver Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Many Canadians remain unaware of the involvement of forced child labour in the products they buy, according to non-profit agency World Vision Canada.
Hundreds of protesters descended on the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday to denounce the justice's decision to overturn the half-century-old Roe v. Wade precedent that recognized women's constitutional right to abortion.
As Pride festivities kick off around the world, many refugees are celebrating the LGBTQ2S+ community for the first time.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau headed to the G7 summit in Germany on Saturday without a consensus from the Commonwealth to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but with a chorus of countries calling for help to overcome the fallout of the war.
The World Health Organization said the escalating monkeypox outbreak in nearly 50 countries should be closely monitored but does not warrant being declared a global health emergency.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, holding that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion, protesters and supporters of the ruling gathered at the high court's building in Washington, D.C., and in other cities nationwide.
With the nation's capital bracing for anticipated anti-mandate 'freedom' movement protests during Canada Day weekend, interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen says her MPs are free to attend.
A barge that ran aground near Vancouver's English Bay last year quickly became an accidental attraction, drawing selfie-seekers and inspiring T-shirt designs. But after seven months, residents seem to have grown weary of its hulking presence on the shoreline.
Ukraine's largest LGBTQ rights event, KyivPride, is going ahead on Saturday. But not on its native streets and not as a celebration.
A 15-month dispute in British Columbia's film and television industry has ended with the ratification of a new contract for creative and logistical staff working on productions shot in the province.
All ferry sailings between two of B.C.'s Discovery Islands have been cancelled Saturday because of a lack of crew.
When Tabi Henry was little, she never questioned why everyone celebrated her birthday in costume. Until she realized Oct. 31 was also Halloween.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 321 yards and Malik Henry scored a third-quarter, go-ahead touchdown for the Calgary Stampeders in a 30-23 win over the visiting Edmonton Elks on Saturday.
Nearly 100 Ukrainian members of Calgary’s community marched in protest calling for the release of Azovstal Iron and steel workers, defending Mariupol from Russian attacks.
After the U.S. Supreme Court stripped away constitutional protections for abortion Friday by overturning Roe v. Wade, NDP Leader Rachel Notley demanded that everyone running to become the next leader of the UCP clarify their stance on the issue.
Fans leaving the Garth Brooks concert at Commonwealth Stadium Friday night were happy and smiling, despite some logistical issues that delayed the show and frustrated some.
A Member of Parliament from rural Alberta went live on Facebook Friday to celebrate a United States Supreme Court vote to end constitutional protections for abortion.
Hundreds of people gathered in front of Edmonton City Hall Saturday to celebrate the first large Pride event in the city in four years, and the first one in Churchill Square in eight.
Dozens of people gathered outside the U.S. consulate in downtown Toronto Saturday to protest a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court to overturn constitutional protection for abortion rights.
Office workers are returning to Toronto but foot traffic on Mondays and Fridays hasn’t bounced back. Will it ever?
More people are commuting to offices downtown than at any point since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic but the recovery hasn’t been equal across the board, with both GO Transit and the TTC reporting fluctuations in ridership as many workers choose to work from home at the beginning and end of each week.
Every Monday, Mark Powell drives to the Burlington, Ont., pork plant where his wife died to give water to pigs on their way to slaughter.
Paramedics in Greater Montreal are stretched particularly thin this weekend, with nearly half the territory's ambulances parked due to a staffing shortage.
Police on Montreal's South Shore has located the suspect vehicle they say was involved in a hit-and-run that left a woman dead.
Friends and family of a 17-year-old girl who died in what police are calling an accident on the shore in LaSalle gathered Saturday to remember the Montreal teen who her mother said was 'was full of life.'
Using a trailer or an RV is an easy way for people to get out of the city and into the outdoors, but with soaring gas prices, the cost of driving with one has gone up drastically.
Winnipeg was once again pummelled by rain on Friday and the city came close to setting a rainfall record.
No one was injured but one pet died after an early morning fire Saturday.
When Ennio Muzzolini walked into Christies Mayfair Bakery in 1965 interested in purchasing the small bakery on 33rd Street, he never imagined he’d one day be looking on as hundreds of people lined the block to get their hands on a baguette, cinnamon bun or wood-fired pizza.
Organizers have decided to cancel the Elk Ridge Open due to an “inordinate amount of rain.”
A Saskatoon man whose family helped to build the Waterhen Lake Church is planning to help rebuild the church.
Over 400 people contributed to the Field of Dreams project, which led to the purchase of a large track of prairie grasslands for preservation.
The Saskatchewan NDP will elect its next leader at a convention on Sunday.
Saskatchewan RCMP are investigating after a two-vehicle collision occurred at the intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 5 in Wadena.
An Amber Alert issued by Cape Breton Regional Police on Friday has been cancelled, as the missing youth has been located safe early Saturday morning says police.
The inquiry into Nova Scotia’s 2020 mass shooting, says four pages of handwritten notes that sparked a political firestorm in Ottawa this week, weren’t immediately submitted when subpoenaed by its investigators.
'It’s in shambles': RCMP 'architects of own demise,' says criminologist after complaints in N.B. and N.S.
After a week of criticism and anger at the Mass Casualty Commission in Nova Scotia, and outcry in a rural area of New Brunswick, there are questions about the RCMP’s role in community policing.
A motorcyclist was airlifted to the hospital with unknown injuries Saturday morning following a crash in Bayham, Ont.
The identity of a pedestrian who died after being struck by a vehicle on Walpole Island has been released by police.
The Chatham-Kent police Major Crime Unit is working alongside the Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office to determine the cause of a house fire after a body was found inside the home.
Nipissing-Timiskaming Liberal MP Anthony Rota said he was shocked by Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.
With hundreds of students from India who attend Northern College, and other professionals from India who've moved to the city to work, organizers said they felt it was time to bring everyone together to celebrate their culture with the rest of the community.
A group of friends doing work on a camp in MacGregor Bay helped contain what could have been a devastating fire in Killarney Provincial Park.
A fire at a townhouse complex in Kitchener Friday night has resulted in extensive damage.
Many in Waterloo Region are reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and what it could mean for Canada.
Norfolk County OPP are investigating after they say a pedestrian was found on the side of a road and had to be airlifted to hospital.