‘How many graves are there?’: Community mourns native children who never came home from boarding schools

SPOKANE, Wash. — Over 200 graves were recently discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia which is one of the boarding schools Indigenous children were sent to. The discovery is only 300 miles from Spokane, causing many Indigenous people to remember the trauma of families getting ripped apart and sent away.

“I experienced seeing families crying and seeing the families going over there [the bar] drinking for two, three days trying to kill the pain,” said Leon Eagle Tail, a member of the Gros Ventre tribe in Montana.

He says his father hid him from the social worker who would come and try to take him off to these schools, but not all his siblings were saved. In his family of 10, some did end up going off to boarding school. These schools were run by the Catholic Church and federal governments and were put in place to “civilize” the children and strip them of their native identity, according to Twa-le Swan.

“It was the forceful removal of any aspects of our culture,” said Swan.

Now, the discovery of these graves is forcing other schools to look for missing and undocumented children who may have died while away from their families.

“How many graves are there? How many undocumented deaths from abuse, neglect from the boarding schools?” said Eagle Tail. “I just can’t imagine my grandchildren or my children being ripped out of my arms and taken to a boarding school.”

On Sunday evening, the community held a prayer vigil to remember the children discovered at the Kamloops school. However, they’re encouraging everyone to come together and realize the trauma is still very much alive.

“That brought back a lot of memories and a lot of feelings of being a four-, five-year old boy and being scared of a social worker,” said Eagle Tail.

“We really have to address this history and its ongoing impacts to the native community,” Swan said. “It’s not ancient history. It is still to this day impacting a majority of Native American people you’re going to come across.”

Some of those impacts include people turning to alcohol and drugs to cope. If you’re a boarding school survivor or are experiencing trauma from the recent discovery of these graves, you can call a crisis hotline at 1-866-925-4419.

A 215-mile run is being planned across Washington on June 19 to honor the 215 graves recently discovered. You can find more information about that event HERE.

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