All flags have been lowered at the Civic Centre in the Town of Fort Frances since Monday in respect and memory of the children whose bodies were found buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
The discovery was made on Thursday when Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said in a statement that with the help of ground penetrating radar specialist, the stark truth of the preliminary findings came to light. This was the confirmation of the remains of 215 children, who were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
June Caul, Fort Frances Mayor, said she completely broke down after reading the news on Thursday.
“This is a genocide that happened in our own country by what was happening at residential schools,” Caul said. “I could hardly talk just thinking about these poor families, and especially the children and the physical and sexual abuse that they must have suffered, and then ultimately died either of the abuse or starvation.”
After that, Caul asked Patrick Briere, bylaw officer in the Town of Fort Frances, to immediately lower the three Canadian, provincial and municipal flags.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said in the press release that to their knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths.
“Some were as young as three years old,” Casimir said. “We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children.”
This work was done by the C7élkstens re Secwépemc ne Ckúl tens ell ne Xqwelténs (Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Language and Culture Department) “with ceremonial Knowledge Keepers who ensured that the work was conducted respectfully in light of the serious nature of the investigation with cultural protocols being upheld,” according to the press release.
According to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, the Kamloops Industrial School, later known as the Kamloops Indian Residential School, was opened under Roman Catholic Administration in 1980. The peak enrolment of students was in 1950, before the federal government took over administration of the school. The school formally closed on July 31, 1978.
The last residential school in Fort Frances did not close long before that of Kamloops. In 1974, Ste. Marguerite Indian Residential School was closed after its opening in 1906. The site is now home to Seven Generations Education Institute, Weechi-It-Te-Win Family Services Inc., Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Authority and Nanicost Limited.
Caul said people have pushed the suffering of Indigenous people at residential schools under the rug for many years.
“We’re now just really tipping the iceberg in the other direction,” Caul said. “We care about you as people. We want to make things better. This message needs to be given to our neighbours, province and country that we are listening, and we are dedicated to reconciliation, and we are dedicated to trying to make things right between people who should’ve been friends and not treated the way they were treated.”
Caul said this discovery opens up all the wounds and scars suffered by First Nations families once again.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to all First Nations families, friends, and neighbours,” she said.