KAMLOOPS, B.C. — The chief of a First Nation that has found what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., says there is no road map for the grieving and healing that is needed.
The Tk'emlups te Secwepemc community has been "constantly, collectively grappling with the heart-wrenching truth brought to light," Chief Rosanne Casimir told a news conference on Friday.
"We are the home community of the lost loved ones," she said, adding the nation continues to reach out to communities whose members attended the school.
There's been an outpouring of support, she said, and people who have expertise or information that may be useful in the ongoing investigation of the site are being asked to contact the nation, which also wants a public apology from the Catholic Church.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which ran almost half of Canada's residential schools, has yet to release any records about the school, she said.
Father Ken Thorson, the provincial superior of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, said he reached out to the band last week when the news of the burial sites first became public.
Thorson said he wanted to apologize directly to the band, not through the media.
“I think, you know, an apology is easy. Our governments and churches have apologized before and haven’t changed. The question is followup, the question is action to the followup,” he said.
Thorson said the order looked at making its records available during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 but the effort stalled.
He said he could only speculate about the reasons behind what happened because the order was under previous leadership, but “rather than taking a listening stance,” the Oblates “came together in a defensive posture.”
The nation announced last week that it had used the services of a ground-penetrating radar specialist to find the remains of children long believed missing from the school, some as young as three years old. Its findings are preliminary, said Casimir, who expects a report from the investigation will be ready by the end of the month.
"For all the questions regarding the technology, costs and details of the findings, know that we will share when we get to that point," she said.
Steady streams of people have stopped to pay their respects, and leave flowers, shoes and stuffed animals at the memorial to survivors at the former school.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on Canada's residential school system detailed harsh mistreatment of Indigenous children at the government-funded, church-run schools, where at least 4,100 children died.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the Catholic Church to "step up" and take responsibility on Friday for its role in Canada's residential school system, saying that as a Catholic, he is deeply disappointed by the position the church has taken.
Trudeau said he expects the church to make school records available and the government has tools available to compel the church to provide the documents, but he indicated he does not want to resort to taking the institution to court.
Internationally, the United Nations' human-rights special rapporteurs are calling on Canada and the Catholic Church to conduct prompt and thorough investigations into the discovery in Kamloops, including the identification of any remains and examination of the circumstances and responsibilities surrounding the deaths.
In a statement on Friday, the UN special rapporteurs called on Ottawa to undertake similar investigations at all other Indigenous residential schools across Canada.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2021.
The Canadian Press