Trudeau will attend the Kamloops ceremony to mark the anniversary of the discovery of unmarked graves

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.

The Prime Minister will be in Kamloops, BC on Monday to attend a special ceremony marking the anniversary of the discovery of hundreds of suspected unmarked graves on the site of a former residential school.

Details of Justin Trudeau’s participation in the Tk’emlúps at Secwépemc Le Estcwicwéy̓ (The Missing) memorial were released Sunday night.

Trudeau is expected to attend the all-day memorial service and meet with Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir and councilors.

He is also expected to speak to the media at the event.

A memorial outside the Kamloops Indian Residential School is pictured on June 4, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Monday marks a year since a BC First Nation confirmed the discovery of potential unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, sparking a deeper investigation of the site and more searches across the country.

Preliminary information obtained via ground-penetrating radar in May 2021 showed that there could be as many as 215 unmarked children’s cemeteries near the school, although experts later said they suspect the number could be much higher as only a small fraction of the site was investigated.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) has said, based on death data, that about 4,100 children died in residential schools in Canada, but the actual total is much higher.

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a large number of indigenous children who were forcibly sent to residential schools have never returned home.

Le Estcwicwey̓ (The Missing)

The Kamloops Indian Residential School operated from 1890 until 1969, when the federal government took over the administration of the Catholic Church to operate it as a day school residence, until it closed in 1978.

According to the NCTR, up to 500 children from First Nations communities in BC and beyond are said to be registered at the school at any given time.

Monday’s event kicks off at 5 a.m. PT at the Tk̓emlúps Powwow Arbor with a sunrise ceremony, followed by prayers and singing throughout the morning. Singing, dancing and a feast round out the afternoon, with a closing prayer at around 7pm. It is open to the public.

In October, Trudeau visited the Tk’emlúps at Secwe̓pemc Nation and personally apologized for not responding to an invitation to join the community for the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30.

Trudeau is pictured with Tk’emlups Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir at a gathering outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, BC, on October 18, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Since the findings, the federal government has pledged more than $320 million to search schools and support survivors and their families.

In January 2022, the government struck a deal with the NCTR to hand over thousands of documents about residential schools.

Pope Francis has confirmed his plans to visit Canada in July, and while he will not stop in Kamloops, he is expected to formally apologize to the survivors and their families on behalf of the Church.

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of the residential school and for those triggered by the latest reports.

A national crisis line for residential schools in India has been set up to provide support to residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who never came home, or residential school staff and operations? Email your tips to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team researching residential schools: [email protected]

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