The news traveled the world, plunged the country into an awesome examination of conscience and shattered new wounds among Indigenous people. On May 27, 2021, Tk’emlups te Secwépemc community leader Rosanne Casimir announced that the remains of 215 children had been spotted by ground-penetrating radars at the site of the former Kamloops Native Residential School in British Columbia (in July, this number was reduced to 200). Since then, research conducted elsewhere in the country has identified more than a thousand other anonymous graves near former residential schools.
Before the shock became global, the first shock was brutal for Chef Casimir. “I was horrified and speechless when [l’équipe technique qui faisait les recherches] said the words “anonymous graves”, ”she recalls in an interview with the Duty. “It was surreal and very traumatic to think about how I, as a boss, was going to deliver this news. “
Quickly, Rosanne Casimir decided to share the preliminary results of the research with members of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc community, then to the media. “It was very disturbing emotionally. But it was their truth [aux enfants disparus] that arose. “
A truth that had never been recognized despite the testimonies of Aboriginal elders who repeated that some children had never returned from their stays in residential schools. And despite the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which estimated that 4,127 Indigenous children had died in these establishments set up by the federal government, and administered by religious communities, to educate and assimilate Indigenous children.
In Kamloops, the towering red brick building that housed the country’s largest residential school from 1890 to 1969 still stands some 350 kilometers northeast of Vancouver. But several residents of the area did not know the history, notes Mr.me Casimir.
According to the chef, the discovery of anonymous graves has created a real awareness across the country. “Many survivors of residential schools now tell us that people look at them differently, that they want to talk to them, to learn more about them, their pain and their trauma. “
“The real story is being revealed,” adds Rosanne Casimir. I see [cet événement] as something that will change the way people see First Nations and that will lead to a better understanding of who we are. “
From 1883 to the late 1990s, approximately 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forcibly placed in residential schools. In addition to being uprooted from their culture and torn from their families, several residents suffered physical and sexual abuse, and some never returned home.
Since Canadians were confronted with this gloomy episode in their history, thousands of children’s shoes have been lined up in various locations across the country to pay tribute to the young lives taken. A cavalcade of announcements also followed.
On August 10, Ottawa announced an additional $ 320 million “to help Indigenous communities deal with the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual legacy” of residential schools, says Crown-Indigenous Relations and Business spokesperson. from Northern Canada, Kyle Fournier.
In an email to Duty, he adds that since the summer, the government has received 75 requests for ground searches and approved 29 funding proposals to locate other burial sites. “The search for unmarked graves is thorough and time consuming,” he said.
On September 24, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued a badly awaited apology to the Aboriginal people. In a written statement, the CCCB said it recognized “with sadness the historical and continuing trauma, as well as the legacy of suffering and challenges that continues to this day for indigenous peoples”.
A month later, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis was preparing a visit to Canada that would be part of the process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples. In 2018, the Holy Father refused to issue a formal apology to residential school survivors, which he could correct on this trip.
As for the archives, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations of Canada, Marc Miller, announced on December 6 that the government would hand over to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation (CNVR), located at the University of Manitoba, new files on residential schools.
In October, the CNVR regretted that Ottawa had still not provided it with key documents on the history of each of the country’s residential schools. With archival documents, the indigenous communities hope to find some answers to better understand what happened in the residential schools.
On the side of the Oblates – who have managed several residential schools for Indigenous people, including that of Kamloops -, Brother Raymond Marquis told the Duty that additional staff have been hired to help identify, scan, classify and transmit the relevant documents to the NVRC. An imposing job that began in 2011, he says. “We are talking about more than 150 years of documents”, underlines Brother Marquis, specifying however that the files of the schools were generally transferred, at the time, to the federal government.
Could these documents – whether in Ottawa or elsewhere – one day shed light on the truth about this episode in Canadian history? Nothing is acquired. “The questions we have today are not the questions we had at the time,” remarks Brother Marquis. [Les documents de l’époque], we did not write them to answer today’s questions. “