TORONTO, Ontario (CTV Network) — The federal government is flying flags at half-mast to commemorate the deaths of 215 First Nations children whose remains were found buried near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on Twitter on Sunday.
“To honour the 215 children whose lives were taken at the former Kamloops residential school and all Indigenous children who never made it home, the survivors, and their families, I have asked that the Peace Tower flag and flags on all federal buildings be flown at half-mast,” Trudeau tweeted.
His announcement comes a day after the chief of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations (MCFN) in Ontario issued an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging his government to lower the flags and declare a national day of mourning.
“Normally, I’m a person who likes to think things through and be very strategic, but there was so much emotional tied to this. I mean, everybody I talked to talked about the pain and hurt they were feeling. So, I said we need to act,” Chief R. Stacey Laforme told CTV News Channel.
In Laforme’s open letter posted on Twitter, he wrote, “We call on the Prime Minister to lower flags of this country and declare a national day of mourning for our children… For these Children and the many others!”
Since then, many others have joined the call, including NDP MP Charlie Angus, who tweeted that lowering the flags is “the least we can do.”
“These children were forcibly taken by the state. They died at a church run residential school and were buried without dignity,” he tweeted.
An online petition on Change.org has also been circulating, calling on the federal government to establish a national day of mourning in honour of the 215 First Nations children. As of Sunday afternoon, it has amassed nearly 9,000 signatures.
Laforme acknowledges that these gestures alone won’t be enough to achieve reconciliation for what took place at the residential schools but says that they’re an important first step.
“Yes, there are a lot of things that need to be done. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. But first and foremost, let’s show our love and our respect. And that’s what has to happen first,” he said.
The Kamloops school operated between 1890 and 1969. The federal government took over the operation from the Catholic church to operate as a day school until it closed in 1978.
At one point, the school was the largest in Canada’s residential school system.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report on residential schools more than five years ago. The nearly 4,000-page account details the harsh mistreatment inflicted on Indigenous children at the institutions, where at least 3,200 children died amid abuse and neglect.
“This is a chance for the people in this country to understand that we’re not talking about just our children. We’re talking about the children of this country, the moment that I do not want this country to ever forget,” said Laforme.
With files from the Canadian Press.
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