Flags in Nunavut at half-mast in honour of Kamloops residential school children
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announces discovery of mass grave at former school
Flags will fly at half-mast on all territorial government buildings in Nunavut until June 9 following the discovery last week of a mass grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
The remains of 215 children were found buried at the site after Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation hired a specialist to use ground-penetrating radar to survey the property, according to a statement from the First Nation on May 27.
Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq announced the gesture Sunday, saying the discovery “leaves all Indigenous people in this country heartbroken and grieving.”
“In remembrance of these beautiful souls, taken, disregarded and dishonoured by a system meant to break them, the Government of Nunavut will lower all its flags to half-mast for nine days — 215 hours for 215 loved children,” he stated.
Some of Nunavut’s communities are following suit, including Iqaluit and Baker Lake.
Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell said it is “extremely important to remember the lives scarred, ruined and taken by residential schools.”
He said it is “unimaginable” that this happened within his lifetime — in Canada, and urged the federal government to continue work to fulfill the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
Flags will also be flown at half-mast on all federal government offices, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Canada’s residential school system dates back to the 1880s, with the last school closing in 1996. The federal government ran 139 of these schools across the country, including 13 in Nunavut.
In 2015, the TRC commissioners summarized testimony given to them by 6,750 Indigenous residential school survivors and research into the archival history of residential schools.
That testimony documents that residential school staff, many who worked for churches, tortured, raped and sexually abused Indigenous children, and committed other violent acts and indignities.
There have been calls to extradite one former residential staff member who is accused of abusing Inuit children during his time in Nunavut. Father Johannes Rivoire, now 90, was known to have worked in Chesterfield Inlet, the site of the infamous Sir Joseph Bernier School. The crimes he is accused of date back to the 1960s.
In its final report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made 94 recommendations to governments and urged all Canadians to embrace the principle of reconciliation with Indigenous people.
Those who are in distress over the revelation of the children’s deaths can contact the 24-hour Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 to access emotional supports and crisis referral if needed.
The IRSSS (Indian Residential School Survivors Society) Emergency Crisis line is also available 24/7 for those that may need counselling support: 1-800-721-0066.