Canada: More unmarked graves likely at former residential school site

Canada: More unmarked graves likely at former residential school site

Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A Macdonald, authorises the creation of a residential school system, established by Christian churches and the federal government, with the intent to assimilate indigenous peoples in Canada.

Macdonald was prime minister from 1867-1873 and again from 1878-1891
Image caption Macdonald was prime minister from 1867-1873 and again from 1878-1891 Image copyright by Getty Images

Residential schools are made compulsory for children from age seven to 15. Some 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children are eventually taken from their homes, with many parents surrendering them under threat of prosecution.

Children in a residential school dormitory in the 1950s
Image caption Children in a residential school dormitory in the 1950s Image copyright by Getty Images

The residential school system begins to wind down – though the last school will close in 1996 – as the psychological and cultural impacts of the schools come under growing scrutiny.

An estimated 6,000 children die at the schools, according to the former chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Murray Sinclair. They die from causes like disease, neglect, or accidents. Physical and sexual abuse is also common.

There is still no full picture of the number of children who died or where many of them are buried.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issues a formal apology for the residential school system, which saw over 130 such institutions operating across Canada.

“Today, we recognise that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country,” he says.

Prime Minister Harper with Phil Fontaine, a Canadian Indigenous leader, in 2008
Image caption Prime Minister Harper with Phil Fontaine, a Canadian Indigenous leader, in 2008 Image copyright by Getty Images

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada releases its final report on the legacy of residential schools and describes the central policy behind the system as one of  “cultural genocide”. It recommends funding to find burial sites and commemorate the children who died away from home.

Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation in British Columbia announces that a preliminary investigation, using ground penetrating radar, has found an estimated 215 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school. Other First Nations in Canada are conducting similar research.

A memorial near the spot where the remains of the children were discovered
Image caption A memorial near the spot where the remains of the children were discovered Image copyright by Getty Images

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