Dozens of pairs of shoes and toys and teddy bears were placed on the Chilliwack Law Court steps on May 31, 2021 in support of the 215 bodies of children found last week in an unmarked grave at the site of an old Kamloops residential school. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

Dozens of pairs of shoes and toys and teddy bears were placed on the Chilliwack Law Court steps on May 31, 2021 in support of the 215 bodies of children found last week in an unmarked grave at the site of an old Kamloops residential school. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

Stó:lō historian has heard horrible tales of abuse at residential schools

Children whipped publicly, some even kidnapped by American miners

Warning: The following story contains details some readers may find distressing.

When Keith Carlson heard about the discovery of 215 childrens’ graves on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, his heart broke. But sadly, he wasn’t surprised.

“The fact that there were 215 graves, and maybe more, surprised me in the sense that it is bigger than I would have expected,” Carlson said.

As a historian who has worked alongside the Stó:lō people since 1992, Carlson has heard horrible tales about the abuses suffered by Indigenous children at residential schools.

“An elder from Soowahlie First Nation told me about a time he was in Chilliwack in the early decades of the 20th century, walking by the grounds of the Coqualeetza Residential School,” Carlson recalled. “He told me that the groundskeeper had tied up a student to a horse-wagon and was horse-whipping him, publicly, for other kids to see.”

He relayed another story about young Indigenous boys being kidnapped by American miners, literally stolen away from their families and taken to California in 1858.

RELATED: Stó:lō elder opens up about children found at residential school site in Kamloops

RELATED: City of Chilliwack releases statement on Kamloops Residential School burial site

“We have historical records that some of those boys who were six or seven years old when they were taken, they found their way back to the Fraser Valley, on their own, 30 years later,” Carlson said. “And some of them died and were buried in California. We’ve found one gravesite in Sacramento, and something like that speaks to Kamloops not being an isolated story. There is a deep history of these children being taken away and not returned to families who were desperate to find out what happened to them.”

Carlson is waiting for more details on the Kamloops discovery, and the answers to many questions.

How old are the bodies? How recently were they buried and most importantly, how did they die?

It’s possible, he noted, that they could have been victims of smallpox in the late 19th century, or the Spanish Flu epidemic of the early 1900s.

“You could see how there could be deaths, and you could see how children who came to the school from remote communities without regular road or rail access could be buried at the school in the winter months rather than transported home,” Carlson said.

“But if that’s the case, and I give them every benefit of the doubt, I’m left wondering why this wasn’t a well-tended cemetery? Why wasn’t this a peaceful place of last repose for children who died tragically in someone’s care?”

To Carlson, that suggests something “dark,” but without facts it’s all speculation.

What the Kamloops discovery might do, in a tragic but effective way, is make things more ‘real’ for people who are aware of residential schools, and know Indigenous children experienced terrible things in those places, but have only the shallowest understanding of what actually happened.

And it might be the catalyst for society as a whole to reflect on how it was allowed to happen.

“What happened to the people who ran those schools? The governments that funded that school? To the society that endorsed and voted for the people who created those schools?’” Carlson asked.

“How did we absolve ourselves somehow of the responsibility to care for those children, not just in life but also in death, caring for those burial sites, preserving and remembering.

“As a human being, it hurts that we could allow that to happen.”

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is offering toll-free 24-hour telephone support for survivors and their families at 1 (866) 925-4419. Alternately, you can reach out the KUU-US Crisis Line Society 24-hour line at 1-800-588-8717.


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

Like us on

chilliwackIndigenousresidential schools

 

Dozens of pairs of shoes and toys and teddy bears were placed on the Chilliwack Law Court steps on May 31, 2021 in support of the 215 bodies of children found last week in an unmarked grave at the site of an old Kamloops residential school. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

Just Posted

Dooris Raad was last seen in South Surrey’s Ocean Park neighbourhood on June 7. (Surrey RCMP photo)
(James Smith photo)
North Delta crime beat, week of May 31

A selection of property crimes submitted weekly by the Delta Police Department

The Lower Mainland Green Team and students from Earl Marriott Secondary remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park. (Contributed photo)
Green Team returns to White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park to monitor previous work

Environmental volunteers, South Surrey students remove invasive species

People were lined up around the fields at a drop-in vaccine clinic at Newton Athletic Park on Tuesday (April 27, 2021), which is one of the high-transmission neighbourhoods that are being given vaccine priority. This clinic was one of at least three to open in the city on Tuesday. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey’s weekly cases continue to drop, push for 80% vaccination rate citywide

BCCDC reports 263 cases for Surrey the week of May 30 to June 5

Friends of Bear Creek Park held a ‘yellow-ribbon event’ on Saturday (June 12, 2021), with protesters at 84th Avenue and King George Boulevard and 84th Avenue and 140th Street. People were asked to tie a yellow ribbon in their yard “to celebrate and to show support for our trees in Bear Creek Park.” (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Protesters hold ‘yellow-ribbon’ event at Surrey’s Bear Creek Park

People asked to tie a yellow ribbon in their yard to ‘show support for our trees’

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read