The students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program at Cornell University join with Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island to honor and mourn the hundreds of lost Indigenous children whose bodies continue to be found in unmarked and undocumented graves at Canadian Indian Residential Schools. At the time of this writing, a total of over five hundred graves had been identified at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School, and Kuper Island Residential School, all in British Columbia, and approximately six hundred graves were detected at Saskatchewan’s Marieval Indian Residential School alone. We offer our deepest condolences to the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, Ktunaxa Nation, Penelakut Tribe, and Cowessess First Nation, whose families have been most directly affected by these heartbreaking discoveries. We also recognize that these findings are instances of a much larger pattern: massive numbers of undocumented deaths likely occurred at many, or even all, of the nearly 500 residential schools for Indigenous children funded and operated by the U.S. and Canadian governments between the mid-1800s to as late as 1996.
Almost every Indigenous person in North America can trace the devastating legacies of government-run boarding schools in their families. This includes our own Indigenous students, faculty, staff, and alumni. These English-only schools were established in an attempt to assimilate Indigenous children, in many instances forcibly taking children from their families to isolate them from their communities, languages, and traditions. Psychological, physical, and sexual abuse was rampant. Indigenous peoples across the continent today continue to deal with the tremendous legacy of trauma and grief caused by these colonial institutions.
The disclosure about these lost children found buried at these Indian Residential Schools has incited new feelings of outrage and grief throughout Indigenous communities and homes. We acknowledge the anger of Indigenous peoples at the pervasive colonialist system that inflicted so much damage on individuals, families, and communities. We particularly recognize the viciousness of targeting Indigenous youth and then burying them, neglected, undocumented, and without notifying their families, when they fell victim to this deliberate and cruel system.
As our Indigenous students prepare for another year at Cornell University, we remain grateful that their families have entrusted us with their loved ones. We continue to work towards justice and accountability, especially as there has been little action to date on the legacy of U.S. Indian Boarding Schools. We hope that the Federal Indian Boarding School Truth Initiative under the leadership of Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland will help to address the ongoing historical trauma caused by Indian Boarding Schools.