'The world has to know what happened,' residential school survivor says of reopening old wounds
When a First Nation in British Columbia announced one year ago that it believed a search had uncovered the graves of children, it was difficult and painful for survivors of Canada's residential schools to have those metaphorical old wounds reopened. But that pain is necessary, one woman says.
"I always say the truth has to be heard," said Evelyn Camille, who spent 10 years at the Kamloops Indian Residential School prior to its closure in the late 1970s.
"We have to bring it out, as much as it hurts us. The world has to know what happened."
Camille was one of thousands of students who stayed at the 500-student-capacity facility, which first opened in the late 1800s.
She spoke to CTV News Monday at a ceremony in Kamloops meant to honour those who attended the school and survived years of abuse, and those who never made it back home.
Monday marked the one-year anniversary of an announcement from the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation that evidence collected by ground-penetrating radar suggested as many as 215 children were buried in unmarked graves in an area that once held the school's apple orchard.
Scientists involved in the investigation, which is ongoing, say GPR uncovered about 200 "targets of interest" in an area of the school grounds. They say the only way to confirm how many children are buried in the spot is excavation and forensic analysis.
Right now the investigation is focused on the search of the rest of the school grounds, but the location of the targets – near where a child's rib bone and a tooth had been found – match the stories of survivors who remember being woken up at night and brought to the area to dig graves.
"We had stressed over and over, 'There are children missing. What about them? What about their people?'" Camille said.
She didn't speak in depth about her own experience Monday, but said prior to the announcement last year, she'd put it all aside and moved on.
"Something like this comes along and it opens up those wounds again," she said.
As difficult as it's been, she said it's important that the truth is made public.
"I have been getting a lot of calls from all over the world," Camille said.
"We can't keep hiding it. The children and future generations have to know. The world has to know so that it will never, ever, ever happen again."
News of the suspected graves not only made headlines, but prompted similar searches at the sites of other Canadian residential schools. It also prompted the release of documents from church and government officials, some of which were previously said to be non-existent.
And it led to something Indigenous leaders have been calling for for decades: an apology from the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis issued an apology earlier this year, and promised to visit some First Nations in Canada this summer.
But notably absent from the Pope's itinerary is a stop in Kamloops, despite invitations from the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc.
In fact, so far it doesn't appear he'll be visiting B.C. at all.
While some, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, called it disappointing and asked the Holy See to change the trip's agenda, Camille said she feels differently.
"I don't want to see him anyhow," she said.
"What the hell is he going to – oh sorry. What is he going to do? Give me back my 10 years I spent there? No."
Camille works as an elder in her local school, saying the job gives her the opportunity to keep her culture, language, traditions and ceremonies alive.
"I keep telling the children that are there how important it is. It is our identity. That is who we are," she said.
Camille said this work brings her joy and healing, and encourages her to find strength.
And she said sharing this, and the widespread knowledge of what is often referred to as a dark chapter in Canadian history, gives voice to those who lost their lives.
"Now the children themselves speak out. They are found, and they are speaking out. 'We are here.'"
With an interview from CTV News Vancouver's Ben Miljure in Kamloops, B.C.
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