The City of Kamloops says it is “heartbroken” following an announcement from Tk’emlups First Nations leaders saying the remains of 215 children had been found buried near the residential school on band land.
“This is tragic and absolutely devastating,” Mayor Ken Christian said Friday in a statement.
“We cannot begin to imagine the pain this discovery has caused, but we share your sorrow.”
Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir announced on Thursday that the band had confirmed the find via ground-penetrating radar.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs also shared its condolences on Friday.
“There are no words to express the deep mourning that we feel was First Nations people, and as survivors, when we hear an announcement like this,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC president, said in a statement.
“These were children — all belonging to a family and community, and a nation — who were forcibly stolen from their homes under the authority of the Canadian government, and never returned.”
Casimir said the deaths are believed to have been undocumented. She said the graves had been previously unconfirmed but rumoured to exist.
B.C.’s premier also issued a statement.
“I am horrified and heartbroken to learn that the burial site of 215 children has been confirmed on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School,” John Horgan said.
“I honour Tk’emlups te Secwepemc as they grapple with this burden from a dark chapter of Canadian history and uphold their commitment to complete this investigation over the coming weeks, bringing to light the full truth of this loss.”
The school operated between 1890 and 1978.
“Each child has been forever taken from a family and a community that loved them,” Horgan said.
“This is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. And it is a stark example of the violence the Canadian residential school system inflicted upon Indigenous peoples and how the consequences of these atrocities continue to this day.”
In a tweet Friday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed Horgan's comments, saying the discovery is "a painful reminder" of a dark time in Canada's history.
"I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news," the PM said.
Meanwhile, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod also addressed the find.
“Today, our community mourns along with those who suffered this terrible loss and alongside all survivors of the horrific residential school system, who are undoubtedly forced to remember their trauma upon hearing the news,” she said.
“There’s nothing more painful in life than losing a child. My heart breaks today thinking of all the loving parents who never saw their children return home, and who were never granted the dignity of knowing what happened.”