The remains of 215 children, some as young as 3 years old, have been found buried on the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school — one of the institutions that held children taken from families across the nation.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation said in a news release that the remains were confirmed last weekend with the help of ground-penetrating radar.
More bodies may be found because there are more areas to search on the school grounds, Casimir said Friday.
In an earlier release, she called the discovery an “unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.
The Canadian government apologized in Parliament in 2008 and admitted that physical and sexual abuse in the schools was rampant. Many students recall being beaten for speaking their native languages; they also lost touch with their parents and customs.
Indigenous leaders have cited that legacy of abuse and isolation as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations.
A report more than five years ago by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission said at least 3,200 children had died amid abuse and neglect, and it said it had reports of at least 51 deaths at the Kamloops school alone between 1915 and 1963.
“This really resurfaces the issue of residential schools and the wounds from this legacy of genocide towards Indigenous people,” Terry Teegee, Assembly of First Nations regional chief for British Colombia, said Friday.
British Columbia Premier John Horgan said he was “horrified and heartbroken” to learn of the discovery, calling it a tragedy of “unimaginable proportions” that highlights the violence and consequences of the residential school system.
The Kamloops school operated between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took over operations from the Catholic Church and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1978.
Casimir said it’s believed the deaths are undocumented, although a local museum archivist is working with the Royal British Columbia Museum to see if any records of the deaths can be found.
“Given the size of the school, with up to 500 students registered and attending at any one time, we understand that this confirmed loss affects First Nations communities across British Columbia and beyond,” Casimir said in the initial release issued late Thursday.
The leadership of the Tk’emlups community “acknowledges their responsibility to caretake for these lost children,” Casimir said.
Access to the latest technology allows for a true accounting of the missing children and will hopefully bring some peace and closure to those lives lost, she said in the release.
Casimir said band officials are informing community members and surrounding communities that had children who attended the school.
The First Nations Health Authority called the discovery of the remains “extremely painful” and said in a website posting that it “will have a significant impact on the Tk’emlúps community and in the communities served by this residential school.”
The authority’s CEO, Richard Jock, said the discovery “illustrates the damaging and lasting impacts that the residential school system continues to have on First Nations people, their families and communities,.”
Nicole Schabus, a law professor at Thompson Rivers University, said each of her first-year law students at the Kamloops university spends at least one day at the former residential school speaking with survivors about conditions they had endured.
She said she did not hear survivors talk about an unmarked grave area, “but they all talk about the kids who didn’t make it.”
Health fears as killer DR Congo volcano spouts ash
The DR Congo’s Nyirangongo volcano has released large amounts of ash some two months after its eruption, sparking concerns for local residents’ health, experts said on Sunday.
The volcano in the far east of the vast central African country first erupted on May 22, claiming 32 lives and destroying hundreds of homes.
“The ash is the result of the collapse of part of the Nyirangongo’s central crater,” vulcanologist Muhindo Syavulisembo said in a statement.
Syavulisembo, who heads the Goma Vulcanology Observatory (OVG), however ruled out an imminent new eruption.
“There hasn’t been visible damage, but we fear respiratory and water-borne illnesses,” Samson Buunda, a local civil society representative, told AFP.
The eruption of Africa’s most active volcano displaced nearly 400,000 people, especially after May 27 when scientists warned of a potentially catastrophic blast underneath nearby Lake Kivu.
UK, US delegates and others arrive in Nigeria to witness Kanu’s trial
Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria has seen an influx of delegates representing the UK, US and others to attend the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, a rights activist and leader of Biafran pro-independence group , the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Kanu, whose trial is scheduled to resume Monday, July 26, 2021, faces charges of treason and other unfounded crimes for calling for a referendum on an independent state of Biafra in the east of the country.
He was seized in Kenya and illegally repatriated to Nigeria after fleeing to Israel in 2017 when his home was raided by soldiers who killed scores of civilians in an attempt to assassinate him.
“We see here the presence of some well-known journalists from European countries. Some British and American delegates have also arrived,” said a source at a notable hotel in Abuja.
Ifeanyi Ejiofor, lawyer for the separatist leader, who confirmed the presence of journalists and members of the international community, called for calm between members of the separatist group and the country’s security agents who will be in court for the trial.
“I further wish to urge restraint and civility in all quarters tomorrow. It is your constitutional rights to be in court to witness Court’s proceedings but your engagement, dressing and conducts should be civil,” Ejiofor said in a statement on Sunday.
“The World is here already and they will be watching. All notable World class media houses are here already.
“I also wish to remind the security agents that the Court’s environment is a public place, accessible to everybody, and not a battleground, they should be civil in their engagement, as no violence is envisaged and none will happen. What we Demand for is justice and fair hearing,” he said.
Teen missing since 2020 after soldiers raided synagogue in Nigeria
The whereabouts of Emmanuel John, a teenager, has remained unknown since October 2020, when Nigerian soldiers raided a synagogue in Obigbo, an Igbo residence in Rivers State, where they killed at least seven worshipers and arrested others.
Emmanuel’s two younger siblings were also shot in the incident that left the synagogue razed by soldiers who accused the worshipers of having ties to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)—a group advocating for an independent state known as Biafra in the eastern part of the country.
The incident occurred in October 2020 during which a protest against police brutality turned violent when security officers shot and killed protesters across the country, including Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, where they killed many civilians.
“It was on Shabbat, Saturday, that the incident happened. My children were there in the synagogue when the soldiers arrived. They killed people and shot others including my two other little children who are 7 and 9 years old,” Mrs. Nkechi John, mother of the missing teenager told Gazette Africa.
“Favour (Emmanuel) didn’t do anything wrong. The soldiers shot him and took him in their van with other worshipers. Since that 2020 we have searched almost everywhere but we haven’t found him.
“He’s only 15, he was keeping Shabbat with others that Saturday, he didn’t do anything wrong,” Ms. John said, weeping.
A Jewish adherent, Chikwube Udo, who survived the military raid, described it as a “bloody Shabbat day”, noting that the synagogue was razed to the ground after the attack.
“It was a bloody Shabbat day. People died, others were shot and wounded while those who survived were thrown into the military van and taken away. Few others were found but Aboy (Emmanuel) is still missing,” he said.
Since 2017, Nigerian government forces have stepped up their attacks on Igbo Jewish adherents whom they consider terrorists for supporting the demand for a referendum on an independent state known as Biafra.
At least 14 synagogues, including those destroyed in November 2020, have been razed by government forces in the east of the country.
The crackdown on Jewish worshipers in Nigeria has further led to the arrest of three Israeli filmmakers, Rudy Rochman, Noam Leibman and E. David Benaym, currently detained without charge.
Meanwhile, Nnamdi Kanu, human rights activist and leader of Biafran pro-independence group, who practices Judaism, is currently being held in the Nigeria’s Department of State Services detention center in Abuja after being seized in Kenya and illegally repatriated to the country.
The separatist leader who had fled to Israel in 2017 when his home was raided by soldiers who killed many civilians in an attempt to assassinate him, faces charges of treason and other unfounded crimes, for calling for a referendum on the independent state of Biafra in the east of the country.
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