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Archives Church grieves after Mass grave discovery

June 9, 2021

After the discovery of an unmarked burial site containing more than 200 bodies near a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, St. Regis Mission, the church serving the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, has become the site of a makeshift memorial.

On May 30, the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported the discovery of the bodies of 215 children buried on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school.

The residential school opened in 1890 and was operated by Catholics and the Canadian federal government. It was the largest in Canada's residential school system, with enrolment reaching a high of 500 students in the early 1950s.

Members of Indigenous communities grieved the discovery by creating memorials of children’s shoes on former residential school grounds and Catholic churches around Canada and portions of the United States.
Shoes and a banner were installed at the site of the St. Regis Mission. The church issued the following statement:

With you, we were shocked by the discovery of 215 lost indigenous children and youth in a mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia. Our hearts break for these lost souls and all who were traumatized in this part of Church and Canadian history.

We are members of this community, and we join you all in grieving for those lost children. We pray for their souls. We sympathize and empathize with those who wish to honor their lives and who wish to see light shed on dark truths.

We join you in prayerfully marking the lives lost through the memorial of shoes placed on our church steps. We ask drivers to use caution in the area out of respect for those gathering there.

The statement also offered hotline numbers individuals could call if they were experiencing anguish as a result of the discovery.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver announced a plan to offer increased support and transparency to First Nations people in the wake of the discovery.

Archbishop Miller reiterated the apology he gave before the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2013: "I wish to apologize sincerely and profoundly to the survivors and families, as well as to all those subsequently affected, for the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of those Catholics who perpetrated mistreatment of any kind in these residential schools."

Adding that apologies must be followed with concrete actions, the archbishop committed to five "first steps" to support First Nations people and others affected. They are:

• Being "fully transparent" with archdiocesan archives and records regarding all residential schools and encouraging other Catholic and government organizations to do likewise.

• Offering and supporting mental health support and counselling for people whose loved ones may be buried at the Kamloops site.

• Offering assistance with "technological and professional support" to help Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc and other First Nations people affected to honor, retrieve, and remember their children in whatever way they choose.

• Committing to supporting the same for all First Nations where Catholic-run residential schools were located within the historical bounds of the Vancouver Archdiocese.

• Renewing efforts to listen to Indigenous people about how best to walk together "along the path of justice."
"Each time new evidence of a tragedy is revealed, or another victim comes forward, countless wounds are reopened, and I know that you experience renewed suffering," he said.

"We recognize that there is so much work that remains to be done, yet we hope that, if we persevere in these commitments with humility, we can restore the trust among us that will bring healing."
Catholic bishops across Canada have expressed sadness over the news.

Catholic News Services contributed to this report.

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