May 31 (UPI) — Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said Monday the government is considering additional support for the survivors of children who died over a span of decades at Indian residential schools.
Trudeau said during a news conference that he and his Cabinet are discussing the “next and further” steps to take after last week’s discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
“People are hurting and we must be there for the survivors,” Trudeau said in Ottawa.
“Sadly, this is not an exception or an isolated incident,” he added. “We’re not going to hide from that. We have to acknowledge the truth. Residential schools were a reality, a tragedy that existed here, in our country, and we have to own up to it.”
The Tk’emlupste Secwépemc First Nation announced Thursday the remains had been found on the grounds of the former school with the help of a ground-penetrating radar specialist.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School at one point was the largest of 130 schools in Canada’s Indian Affairs residential school system. It was operated by the Roman Catholic Church between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took it over and ran it as a day school until its permanent closure in 1978.
More than 150,000 children were placed in the schools nationwide between the 1870s and 1996.
Trudeau on Sunday ordered that flags on all federal buildings and on the Peace Tower of the Canadian Parliament building be flown at half-mast to honor the child victims.
The Canadian leader did not specify what forms the additional government help will take, but his government has come under pressure to do more to help the indigenous victims of the residential school program.
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society demanded that the federal government and the Roman Catholic Church take action.
Both need to put any recommendations “into action, such as healing, education, and continued cultural support for all those families adversely affected,” organization chairman Bryon Joseph said in an issued statement.
A class-action settlement, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, was implemented in 2007, establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to facilitate reconciliation among former students, their families and their communities.
That commission released 94 recommendations six years ago, including six dealing with missing children and burial grounds. It called for the establishment of an online registry of residential school cemeteries, “including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children.”
The government allocated $34 million in its 2019 budget to develop such a registry of residential school cemeteries, the CBC reported.