Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday laid flowers at a makeshift memorial in front of parliament for 215 indigenous students whose remains were discovered last week at a former boarding school.
Trudeau observed several minutes of silence and knelt before the heaps of children’s shoes and toys left at the Centennial Flame, before speaking briefly with an indigenous passerby.
Advertisements - Click the Speaker Icon for Audio
Among the tributes were messages of condolences, and one that read: “Every child matters.”
The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc tribe in Canada’s westernmost British Columbia province announced last week it had used ground-penetrating radar to confirm the remains of the students who attended a school near the city of Kamloops.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School was the largest of Canada’s boarding schools set up in the late 19th century to assimilate the country’s indigenous peoples, with up to 500 students attending at any one time.
It was operated by the Catholic Church on behalf of the Canadian government from 1890 to 1969, before Ottawa took over its administration and closed it a decade later.
On Monday, Trudeau expressed Canada’s grief while pledging “concrete actions” in support of indigenous communities left traumatized by the news.
Over the weekend, flags atop government buildings were lowered to half-mast, while rows upon rows of children’s shoes were left also on steps outside government offices and churches in several cities.
Some 150,000 Indian, Inuit and Metis youngsters in total were forcibly enrolled in these schools, where students were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers who stripped them of their culture and language.
At least 4,100 died, according to a truth and reconciliation commission, estimating the actual toll was much higher.