A specialist used ground-penetrating radar to confirm the remains of the students who attended the school near Kamloops, British Columbia, the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc tribe said in a statement late Thursday.
A truth and reconciliation commission identified the names of, or information about, at least 3,200 children who died from abuse or neglect while attending a residential school.
"We talked among ourselves, the boys and I, my friends and I, we talked about it saying they probably ran away and we were happy that they probably got home".
"Some were as young as three years old", said chief Rosanne Casimir, calling it "an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented" by school administrators.
"And perhaps repatriation to their respective communities because the students come from not only the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc area but also neighbouring communities and as far north as Fort Nelson", he said.
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While there have always been rumors of unmarked graves at schools, if the findings in a preliminary report presented to the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation this week are confirmed, it will be the first time a major burial site has been discovered.
"I'm so grateful to the survivors who had so generously shared their stories", she said.
Upper Nicola Band Chief Harvey McLeod attended the school from 1966 to 1968.
"We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify".
The federal minister of Crown Indigenous Relations calls the discovery "heartbreaking".
The Kamloops residential school operated between 1890 and 1969.
"I'm a mom, and I can't imagine my child dying at school".
"It is said that once you know the truth, you can not un-know it".
"It is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country's history", he said.
Teegee said he spoke with Casimir about the discovery of the remains and to offer the support of Indigenous leaders and groups from across Canada.
"This is the beginning but, given the nature of this news, we felt it important to share immediately", Casimir said.
The discovery is a tragedy of "unimaginable proportions" and highlights the violence and consequences of the residential school system, Horgan said in a statement on Friday.
The remains of 215 children have been found buried on the site of the former residential school in Kamloops.
"These were children - all belonging to a family and community, and a nation - who were forcibly stolen from their homes under the authority of the Canadian government, and never returned".
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said what has been found "is the reality of the genocide that was, and is, inflicted upon us as Indigenous Peoples by the colonial state".
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