Flags on federal buildings were lowered to half-staff in Canada on Sunday after the remains of 215 children, some as young as 3 years old, were found buried at the site of what was once that country’s largest state-run residential school set up to assimilate indigenous people.
The mass grave was found buried under an area on which Kamloops Indian Residential School stood in British Columbia, which was part of the Canadian Indian residential school system and closed in 1978, BBC reported.
“To honor the 215 children whose lives were taken at the former Kamloops residential school and all Indigenous children who never made it home, the survivors, and their families, I have asked that the Peace Tower flag (in Ottawa) and flags on all federal buildings be flown at half-mast,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote Sunday on Twitter.
The school opened under the Roman Catholic administration in 1890 and housed as many as 500 students in the 1950s.
Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver issued a statement, saying he was “filled with deep sadness,” Vatican News reported.
“The pain that such news causes reminds us of our ongoing need to bring light to every tragic situation that occurred in residential schools run by the Church,” he added. “The passage of time does not erase the suffering that touches the Indigenous communities affected, and we pledge to do whatever we can to heal that suffering.”
Many students were beaten and verbally abused, and about 6,000 are believed to have died at the school, according to Los Angeles Times, which also reported that the Canadian government had admitted that physical and sexual abuse in the schools was rampant, and apologized in Parliament in 2008.
Canada’s residential school system separated some 150,000 indigenous children from their families, according to The Wall Street Journal, which quoted an inquiry report from 2015 that estimated that 4,100 children died of disease or by accident while in the system and went on to call the school system akin to cultural genocide.
"The school in Kamloops operated for nearly nine decades, until 1978, under the administration of the Roman Catholic Church," the Journal added.
Kamloops Bishop Joseph Nguyen also issued a statement.
“I humbly join so many who are heartbroken and horrified,” he said. “On behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kamloops, I express my deepest sympathy to Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Nation and to all who are mourning this tragedy and an unspeakable loss. No words of sorrow could adequately describe this horrific discovery.”
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation held a press conference on Friday, saying, “We’re still grappling through the effects. This loss is absolutely unthinkable.”
Chief Casimir added, “It’s a harsh reality. It’s our history. This is about the truth coming out and honoring those children.”