An estimated 2,000 Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil Waututh children were forced into the North Vancouver residential school between 1899 and 1959

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Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart has called for the “expert examination” of all residential school sites in Canada, including the old St. Paul’s Indian Residential school in North Vancouver.

Responding to news that the graves of 215 Indigenous children had been discovered using ground-penetrating radar at the old Kamloops Indian Residential School last week, Stewart said he was “calling for all residential school sites in Canada to be expertly examined under the guidance of local First Nations and Knowledge Keepers so that we can begin to identify the thousands of children we know are unaccounted for.”

There were 28 residential schools in B.C., with just one in the Metro Vancouver area (St. Paul’s Indian Residential school). These schools were established by a federal government that legalized the removal of Aboriginal children from their families. Managed by religious groups, the students were kept mostly against their will and widely brutalized by their carers.

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On Sunday, Stewart and Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum both commented on the tragic discovery, with McCallum calling it a “heartbreaking legacy of the residential school system.”

Referring to the residential school system as “genocide”, Stewart said he had been in touch with Musqueam leaders and would speak with leadership from the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations later this week.

“Our entire city, province, and country should mourn this news, as we should continue to mourn the legacy of violence and genocide against Indigenous people,” Stewart said.

“But mourning is not enough. We must continue to seek the full truth of what happened at these so-called schools, as well as other systems of oppression created by our government to destroy Indigenous peoples.”

The main administrative building at the Kamloops Indian Residential School is seen in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada circa 1970.
The main administrative building at the Kamloops Indian Residential School is seen in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada circa 1970. Photo by LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA /via REUTERS

The St. Paul’s Indian Residential School was located on the 500-block of West Keith Road and was run by the Catholic Church for 60 years until closing in 1959. An estimated 2,000 students were institutionalized there, coming from the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations.

It is not known how many children died while living at St. Paul’s. The site is now occupied by St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary.

Squamish Nation spokesperson Khelsilem said St. Paul’s Indian Residential School was a “horrific place of abuse for many Squamish and other Indigenous peoples.”

“The Squamish Nation joins many others in calling for the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls-to-action, which include the identification of cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children are buried,” he said.

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Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said the discovery in Kamloops was confirmed with the help of ground-penetrating radar and that more bodies may be found because the entire school grounds had not yet been searched.

Plans are being made to identify and return home the remains of the children buried there. Casimir said the radar showed some of the children were likely as young as three.

She described the discovery as “an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”

The Kamloops residential school operated between 1890 and 1969. The federal government took over the facility’s operation from the Catholic Church and ran it as a day school until it closed in 1978.

The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1900 and 1971.

— with files from Canadian Press


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