Lheidli T’enneh First Nation has requested that all organizations flying a Lheidli flag lower it to half-mast in recognition of the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Residential School.
The flags will be lowered at 12 p.m. tomorrow (June 1) at City Hall and remain lowered for 215 days.
“Words cannot describe the incredible feeling of loss and despair felt by Lheidli members and Indigenous people across Canada upon learning of this late last week,” said Chief Logan.
“It is discoveries like this that will sustain the conversation about the death and trauma caused at residential schools. Indigenous leaders have spoken often in the past about the devastation caused by residential schools to Indigenous people and communities. This news from Kamloops suggests this conversation will continue well into the future so that we never forget.”
On May 27 the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc band confirmed the remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were found with the help of a ground-penetrating radar specialist at the site of the former Kamloops Residential School.
The band anticipates having a full report ready by mid-June and work is still being done on the site to potentially find more remains.
Chief Logan says lowering the flags for 215 days will represent one day for each child who did not get to live and realize their dreams.
“This period will also provide us with an opportunity to ask ourselves, what else can we do to support our children today. This is about the next generation. It is critical to the future of our Indigenous communities that we do everything we can within our power to support them in their early years so they can grow as individuals, support their families, and contribute to their communities.”
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 6,000 are said to have died.
The Canadian government apologized in Parliament in 2008 and admitted that physical and sexual abuse in the schools was rampant. Many students recall being beaten for speaking their native languages; they also lost touch with their parents and customs.
A report more than five years ago by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission said at least 3,200 children had died amid abuse and neglect, and it said it had reports of at least 51 deaths at the Kamloops school alone between 1915 and 1963.
“I am grateful to Mayor Lyn Hall and the City of Prince George for hosting a Lheidli flag lowering ceremony tomorrow at noon at City Hall to begin the ‘215 Days of Remembrance for the Children Who Died at the Kamloops Residential School’. I acknowledge the lowering of the Canadian, BC and local governments flags today in honour of these children and their families,” added Chief Logan.
The Kamloops school operated between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took over operations from the Catholic Church and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1978.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school students and their families. If you are in need of counselling or support call the 24-hour national crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.
- with files from the Canadian Press