The Canada and British Columbia flags at Princeton Town Hall were lowered to half-mast Monday morning, May 31, in remembrance of 215 Indigenous children uncovered last week in a mass grave at the site of a former Kamloops residential school.
Mayor Spencer Coyne, who is of Indigenous heritage, said the discovery has shaken him deeply.
In a public statement he wrote: “It is with disgust and horror that we learn about the remains of 215 children found buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The Canadian residential school system is a scar on the fabric of this nation.
“The violence perpetrated against Indigenous people by the residential school system is not only a historical wrong but an ongoing legacy of a colonial mindset. The legacy of these schools and the government policies to ‘assimilate’ and remove the identity, language, and culture from Indigenous people across Canada has an ongoing impact on Indigenous people and communities to this day.
“Our hearts and our prayers go out to the families of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and the surrounding communities.
“The children taken and never returned to their families are gone forever but they will not be forgotten.”
Coyne was on hand to observe the lowering of the flags, wearing an orange shirt “to bring awareness and justice for indigenous children as part of the every child matters movement,” he told the Spotlight.
“As for the significance of lowering of flags to half-mast, it is to show honour and collective sorrow. By lowering the flags we are honouring those 215 lost children and their families and we are stating that we as a community collectively grieve for the lost children and mourn with their families and communities,” the mayor said.
The discovery of the bodies was confirmed Thursday (May 27) by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. The children’s remains were found by using ground penetrating radar.
The Kamloops residential school operated between 1890 and 1969, where as many as 500 children were enrolled at one time. The federal government took over the facility from the Catholic Church and ran it as a day school until it closed in 1978.
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1915 and 1963.
Plans are being made to identify and return home the remains of the children – some as young as three – according to a provincial Indigenous leader.
The Kamloops Indian Band wants to undertake the “heart-wrenching” process to eventually tell the stories of the children and bring peace to their families, said Terry Teegee, Assembly of First Nations regional chief.
The effort could involve the BC Coroners Service, the Royal B.C. Museum and forensics experts, he said.
Teegee said he has been meeting with Indigenous leaders from across B.C. to decide what steps to take next. “Really, I think what needs to occur is perhaps some sort of discovery and perhaps some forensics about who these children were, where are they from if that’s possible,” he said.
“And perhaps repatriation to their respective communities because the students come from not only the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc area but also neighbouring communities and as far north as Fort Nelson.”
–with files from Black Press and The Canadian Press
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