Canada lowers flags after mass grave discovered at residential school site

Toronto has lowered ceremonial flags for 215 hours to represent each of the children whose lives were taken at the school

A racist Canadian government policy led to the deaths of thousands of Indigenous children at Indian residential schools.

Now, the federal government has decided to fly flags at the Peace Tower and on federal buildings at half-mast to honour 215 of those children, whose bodies were buried in unmarked graves on the grounds of the now-closed Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Their remains were discovered by ground-penetrating radar specialists brought in by the leadership of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir announced the discovery on May 27.

“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Casimir stated in a news release. “Some were as young as three years old.”

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said on Sunday that the flags would fly at half-mast until further notice.

Under federal rules for half-masting the national flag, this can be done by the prime minister in “exceptional circumstance, and on the advice of the Department of Canadian Heritage and the recommendation of the Clerk of the Privy Council.”

Over the weekend, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he spoke with Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Chief Stacey Laforme who asked that the city’s ceremonial flags be lowered in mourning. Tory said the flags will be lowered for nine days or 215 hours “to represent each life.”

“This is a heartbreaking reminder of the terrible and shameful legacy of residential schools and the thousands of innocent children who died,” Tory said in a statement. “We know this discovery will also be difficult for survivors of the residential school system and a reminder of the trauma they endured.”

There were 50 documented deaths recorded at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was built in 1890 and closed in 1978.

The UBC Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre said in a May 28 statement that there have been “similar findings emerging from communities across Canada such as with the Muskowekwan, Assiniboine and Penelakut.”

The centre expressed gratitude for the work by Indigenous communities to recover unidentified remains of children who were in government custody in residential schools, which existed in Canada from 1883 to 1996.

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, about 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend these schools.

The centre pointed out that the work of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc “is in direct alignment with the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action 73 and 75 which speak to the need to identify unmarked graves and remains of children who attended residential schools and return them that they may be laid to rest on their territory with their people.”

The centre called upon governments and other heritage organizations to increase funding to enable other communities to do this work.

“This is a very difficult discovery and traumatizing for all Survivors and Indigenous communities, and British Columbians, who are learning today that residential schools were the site of burials and large graves,” the centre’s academic director, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Aki-Kwe, said. “This finding validates and confirms what Survivors and those in the community have said for years. We want to find out what happened to them. This is part of the legacy of residential schools.”

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was operated by the Catholic Church until 1969 before it was turned over to the federal government as a day school.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, who heads the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, tweeted his “deep sadness” over news of the 215 children buried at the school.

“The pain such news causes reminds us of our ongoing need to bring to light every tragic situation that occurred in residential schools run by the Church,” he declared.

The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has not apologized for its role in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada described as “cultural genocide” in Indian residential schools.

That prompted University of Ottawa law and medicine professor Amir Attaran to declare today that there “should be no respite for the Catholic Church until it levels with Canadians about its wrongdoing and makes amends judged fitting by their victims.”

This story originally appeared in the Georgia Straight. With files from NOW staff


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2 responses to “Canada lowers flags after mass grave discovered at residential school site”

  1. The average person might want to consider such an atrocity as having ‘happened long ago’/‘in the past’ and believe that (or therefore) humanity could/would not permit them to happen again, in much more modern times. I, however, doubt that is the way large-scale societies — let alone border-segregated, independent nations — necessarily behave collectively.

    After almost 3.5 decades of news consumption, I’ve noticed that a disturbingly large number of categorized people, however precious their souls, can be considered thus treated as though disposable, even to an otherwise democratic nation. When the young children of those people take notice of this, tragically, they’re vulnerable to begin perceiving themselves as beings without value. When I say this, I primarily have in mind indigenous-nation (and Black) Canadians and Americans. But I know it happens worldwide.

    While the inhuman devaluation of these people is basically based on race, it still somewhat reminds me of an external devaluation, albeit a subconscious one, of the daily civilian lives lost in protractedly devastating war zones and heavily armed sieges. They can eventually receive meagre column inches on the back page in the First World’s daily news. (To the newspaper owners/editors, of course, it’s just the news business and nothing personal.)

  2. What is so extremely outrageous and insulting is that these “religious” organizations to this day still have charitable tax exempt status. If you donate a dime to any of the religious orders that were in any way responsible for these massacres, you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
    I would imagine in the Cancer Society, The United Way, MADD, WE, or any other popular charities were found to have thousands of unexplained deaths literally in their backyards, someone would have revoked their charitable status by now.

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