Canada school bodies not isolated incident

·3-min read

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it 's not an isolated incident that over 200 children were found buried at a former Indigenous residential school.

Trudeau's comments come as Indigenous leaders call for examination of every former residential school site - institutions that held children taken from families across the nation.

Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia said the remains of 215 children, some as young as three, were confirmed this month with the help of ground-penetrating radar.

She described the discovery as "an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented" at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, the largest such school in the country.

"As prime minister, I am appalled by the shameful policy that stole Indigenous children from their communities," Trudeau said on Monday.

"Sadly, this is not an exception or an isolated incident," he said.

"We're not going to hide from that. We have to acknowledge the truth. Residential schools were a reality - a tragedy that existed here, in our country, and we have to own up to it.

"Kids were taken from their families, returned damaged or not returned at all."

From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society.

They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6000 are said to have died.

The Canadian government apologised in Parliament in 2008 and admitted physical and sexual abuse in the schools was rampant.

Many students recalled being beaten for speaking their native languages. They also lost touch with their parents and customs.

Indigenous leaders have cited that legacy of abuse and isolation as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations.

Plans are underway to bring in forensics experts to identify and repatriate the remains of the children found buried on the Kamloops site.

Trudeau said he'll be talking to ministers about further things government needs to do to support survivors and the community. Flags at all federal buildings are at half-staff.

Opposition New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh called on Monday for an emergency parliamentary debate.

"This is not a surprise. This is a reality of residential schools," Singh said.

"215 Indigenous kids were found in an unmarked mass grave," he said.

"Anytime we think about unmarked mass graves, we think about a distant country where a genocide has happened. This is not a distant country."

The Kamloops school operated between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took over from the Catholic Church and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1978.

The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has records of at least 51 children dying there between 1915 and 1963.

The Commission identified about 3200 confirmed deaths at schools but noted they did not record the cause of death in almost half. Some died of tuberculosis.

The Commission said the practice was not to send the bodies of the students who died at the schools to their communities.

The Commission also said the government wanted to keep costs down so adequate regulations were never established.