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Agassiz-Harrison, local First Nations grieve for residential school victims

The bodies of 215 Indigenous children were discovered on site of former Kamloops residential school

The District of Kent and Village of Harrison Hot Springs will be keeping their flags at half-mast for at least nine days.

Governing bodies across Agassiz-Harrison offered their condolences and mourn with people across the nation after the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school site in Kamloops.

“Today, the district joins communities across the nation in honour of the 215 children whose bodies have been discovered on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School,” reads a May 30 statement from the District of Kent. “Until further notice, our flags will remain at half-mast for the beautiful children whose lives were lost. We stand with ‘one heart and one mind’ with our Lets’emot Community neighbours.”

RELATED: Flags at federal buildings, BC Legislature lowered to honour residential school victims

The Lets’emot Community to Community (C2C) Forum – which consists of the Cheam, Sto:lo, Sts’ailes, Seabird Island and Sq’ewlets First Nations plus the District of Kent and village of Harrison Hot Springs – released their own statement on Tuesday, June 1.

”The C2C stands with all First Nations in seeking the truth and finding accountability for the missing children in all former residential school sites across Canada,” the statement reads. “We honour the lives and the survivors and support the necessary work required to have the children returned to their families and communities with proper protocol.”

The C2C called upon the federal government to develop and maintain a National Residential School Student Death Register and to conduct appropriate memorial ceremonies and place commemorative markers to honour the deceased children.

The C2C further called on the government to document, maintain, commemorate and protect residential school cemeteries, adhering to three principles:

- The Indigenous community most affected shall lead the development of such strategies

- Information shall be sought from residential school survivors and other knowledge keepers in the development of such strategies

- Cultural protocols shall be respected before any potentially invasive technical inspection and investigation of a cemetery site.

The Village of Harrison expressed its condolences and pledged to keep all village flags at half-mast for 215 hours, one hour for each of the children discovered.

“The discovery of this mass grave of 215 children is a horrifying and heartbreaking reminder of the terrible legacy of residential schools and of the thousands of innocent children who were abused by this system,” said Mayor Leo Facio in a statement released May 31. “This discovery will also add to the suffering of the survivors of the residential school system and will be a reminder of the trauma they experienced there.”

RELATED: Schools across Fraser Cascade to honour children found at Kamloops residential school

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed the discovery on Thursday, May 27. The Kamloops residential school operated between 1890 and 1969, where as many as 500 children were enrolled at one time.

The federal government took over the Kamloops school from the Catholic church and ran it as a day school until its closure in 1978. There are records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1915 and 1963.

In the Seabird Island community, students have paid tribute to the children by placing hundreds of flags at the baseball diamond. Officials called on the community to sign a card of support. In addition to constructing individual memorials, residents throughout Agassiz and Harrison are wearing orange in the children’s honour.

National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.

– With files from Katya Slepian

About the Author: Adam Louis

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