Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says more supports for survivors of residential schools are coming following the heartbreaking discovery of children’s remains in Kamloops, B.C.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said last Thursday that preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School uncovered the remains of 215 children — some as young as three years old.
What those federal supports will look like is still unclear. Trudeau said he’ll meet with his cabinet later today to discuss next steps to aid survivors and the community.
“People are hurting and we must be there for the survivors,” he said this morning ahead of an announcement about Black entrepreneurs.
“Sadly, this is not an exception or an isolated incident. We’re not going to hide from that. We have to acknowledge the truth. Residential schools were a reality — a tragedy that existed here, in our country, and we have to own up to it.”
Opposition parties are calling for immediate action. The Conservatives say they support NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s request for an emergency debate on actions the federal government could take.
Singh is also calling on the federal government to search the grounds of other former residential schools.
“It is not good enough for the federal Liberal government to just make symbolic gestures,” Singh told reporters during a news conference in Ottawa this morning.
“This isn’t the last site; there are many others to be found. Indigenous communities deserve to have the justice that every site like this is uncovered.”
Opposition pushing for emergency debate
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) made six recommendations regarding missing children and burial grounds. It called on the federal government to work with churches, Indigenous communities and former residential school students “to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children.”
Since the grim discovery in Kamloops, advocates have been pushing Ottawa to fund more searches.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said calls for action need support from all parties.
“More action needs to be taken. This is not a time to talk. We have to be taking cues from Indigenous leaders across the country,” she said.
“This discovery is a stain on our country.”
More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were placed in residential schools between the 1870s and 1996.
At least 4,100 children died while attending these schools. The TRC estimates the actual death count could be 6,000 or higher.
A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Emotional and crisis referral services can be accessed by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.