Warning: This story has disturbing details about Indian residential schools. If you are feeling triggered, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.
Kukpi7 Chief Roseanne Casimir drums an honour song for APTN News in front of the former Kamloops residential school.
For decades, word and whispers about students who went missing from the school pointed towards a burial ground on the site.
“We know that through a lot of the stories from our ancestors and that have attended the residential school there is a lot of unanswered questions,” she tells APTN.
Then on May 27, the community released information that 215 graves had been identified – confirmed in the eyes of the community.
Vigils and memorials have sprung up across the country.
People paying their respects by making an offering of shoes or tobacco at churches and legislatures.
Richard Pearen said he wanted to come and pay his respects to the community after hearing the news on the radio.
“We had been in Germany just before COVID a year ago October or something, we went to Dachau and I got that same empty kind of feeling when knowing what happened here,” he said.
APTN was given exclusive access to the former school.
Survivor Rose Miller showed us around.
She said it’s not easy being back here.
“Gives you the heebie jeebies for sure. So many memories and we were so small trying to look out these windows to see and hoping maybe our parents would come – little kids would be crying in the dorms all the time,” she said.
APTN: “It would be at these windows that you would wait and watch for your parents?”
“Yeah,” she said. “And in our bedroom too we couldn’t even get near the window.”
Miller later remembered something else about her time at the school while the students were in the chapel.
“Where that black SUV is right, in there was the laundry room and that’s where the incinerator was and they were burning stuff and we weren’t allowed near there and it smelled horrible,” she said.
Kukpi7 said there’s still a lot of work to do to get the truth.
When they can walk in the doors of the old school knowing what happened.
Kamloops was the largest residential school in Canada and was run by the Catholic church from 1890 to 1969 when the federal government took over operations.
At one point, 500 children were sent to the school. No one is sure how many died.
“We have it still standing because for us that is our history we are not going to wipe away that history, we are not going to forget that history because for us the most important is knowing who we are where we came from and why we are so resilient,” she said.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation is meeting with community members this week to talk about the findings so far.