Bishops seek reconciliation after indigenous children’s remains found

After 215 indigenous children’s remains were discovered at the site of a former Catholic residential school in Canada, the country’s Catholic bishops are seeking healing and reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous populations.

It’s unclear what led to the deaths of children, some as young as 3.

Their bodies along with the other indigenous children’s remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school.

Accidents, fires and contagious illness all contributed to a high death toll at all the residential schools, which the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission has estimated at more than 4,000 children.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, says it is time for the church to “really accept full responsibility for reparations to families.”

While the Vatican has not commented on the discovery of the remains, Canadian church leaders have expressed sadness about the tragedy.

“On behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, I express our deepest sorrow for the heartrending loss of the children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation,” conference president Archbishop Richard Gagnon said.

“The news of the recent discovery is shocking. It rekindles trauma in numerous communities across this land. Honouring the dignity of the lost little ones demands that the truth be brought to light.

“As we see ever more clearly the pain and suffering of the past, the Bishops of Canada pledge to continue walking side by side with Indigenous peoples in the present, seeking greater healing and reconciliation in the future,”.

Flags were lowered to half-mast in many parts of the country.

In the Vancouver Archdiocese, for instance, many schools lowered their flags and held a moment of silence. Students wore orange as a sign of support of reconciliation efforts.

A First Nations Chief described the discovery of the indigenous children’s remains as “an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.″

Though it has been known for decades that children died and were buried in unmarked graves at residential schools, the large number found in one place has shocked the country.

Ground-penetrating radar helped find the bodies, some of which were of children as young as three.

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

Perry Bellegarde, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said while it is not new to find graves at former residential schools, it’s always crushing to have that chapter’s wounds exposed.

From the 19th century until the 1970s, over 150,000 First Nations children had to attend state-funded Christian schools to assimilate them into Canadian society.

They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. They lost touch with their parents and customs. Many were abused and up to 6,000 are said to have died.

In 2008 the Canadian government apologized for the rampant abuse.

Indigenous leaders say that legacy of abuse and isolation is the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations.

An Indigenous opposition legislator wants other defunct residential schools examined for human remains.

“It is a great open secret that our children lie on the properties of the former schools — an open secret that Canadians can no longer look away from,” he said.

“This sad story is shocking but not surprising to students of history … Canada of yesteryear is not the Canada of today,” said a Toronto political science professor.


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