Their anonymous deaths have been honoured and their names — hundreds and hundreds of them — are finally known.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation revealed on Monday the names of 2,800 children who died in residential schools during a sombre ceremony in Gatineau, Que.
A 50-metre long, blood-red cloth bearing the names of each child and the schools they attended was unfurled and carried through a gathered crowd of Indigenous elders and chiefs, residential-school survivors and others, many of whom openly wept.
The list and the ceremony are intended to break the silence over the fates of at least some of the thousands who disappeared during the decades the schools operated.
“Today is a special day not only for myself but for thousands of others, like me, across the country to finally bring recognition and honour to our school chums, to our cousins, our nephews to our nieces that were forgotten,” said elder Dr. Barney Williams, a residential-school survivor and member of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation survivors committee.
“It is essential these names be known,” said Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which compiled the list.
Years of research were conducted on what happened to the many children who were taken into residential schools and never came out. Archivists poured over records from governments and churches, which together operated as many as 80 schools across the country over 120 years. It’s the start of meeting one of the 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report issued in 2015, which called for resources to develop and maintain a register of deaths in residential schools.
A total of 150,000 Indigenous children are thought to have spent at least some time in a residential school.
The 2,800 on the list are those whose deaths and names researchers have been able to confirm. Moran said there are another 1,600 who died, but remain unnamed.
There are also many hundreds who simply vanished, undocumented in any records so far uncovered.
A number of national Indigenous officials spoke at the ceremony Monday, which felt much like a funeral for the many young victims of abuse and neglect in residential schools.
The Canadian Press