Cable news largely ignores discovery of the remains of over 200 Indigenous children at former Canadian residential school

Last week, the remains of more than 200 children were found on the site of what was once Canada’s largest mandatory Indigenous boarding school. The discovery of the bodies is indicative of a long history of anti-Indigenous racism and abuse in Canada, particularly in its schooling system, and some of that racism is still reflected in the country’s policies today. But CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News have barely covered the grim discovery or the context behind it. 

The remains of 215 children, some as young as 3 years old, were found in late May on the site of what used to be the Kamloops Indian Residential School, part of Canada’s former network of mandatory boarding schools for Indigenous peoples. CBS News reported on the rampant abuse that took place in the schools and how its impact is still felt today:

From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.

Indigenous leaders have cited that legacy of abuse and isolation as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations.

Despite the gruesome discovery and the racist legacy behind it, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News have all largely ignored the story. Since May 28, after news of the discovery first broke, till the morning of June 8, CNN has aired seven segments on the story totaling less than 20 minutes of coverage, with the majority airing between 3 and 5 a.m. EDT. MSNBC and Fox News each have aired only one mention of the story, and both segments lasted less than one minute.

The discovery of the remains marks a long history of anti-Indigenous racism and abuse in Canada’s residential schools, as documented by journalist Pooja Salvi. Further, Alicia Elliott, a Mohawk writer from Six Nations of the Grand River, explained in The Washington Post how the “racist legacy of Canada’s residential schools is still reflected in current policies” seen in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, including fights against compensation for survivors of residential schools and continued social services policies that “have unfailingly targeted Indigenous children for removal from their homes.” Elliott also highlighted the lack of action following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report that sought to address the vicious legacy of Canada’s residential schools: 

To be clear, the 215 children found in Kamloops were victims of racist policies that supported the residential school system — a system that was, according to the 2015 report, less about education and more about separating Indigenous children from their families in order to weaken cultural ties and indoctrinate them in what the first Canadian prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, called “the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

In other words, residential schools were put in place with the express intent of committing cultural genocide, if not genocide itself. The Canadian government was aware of alarming death rates at these schools dating all the [way] back to 1907. Less than 25 years after residential schools became official Canadian policy, Peter Bryce released the Report on the Indian Schools of Manitoba and Northwest Territories, which revealed 24 percent of all Indigenous children at residential schools had died of tuberculosis. Bryce went so far as to call residential schools “a national crime.”


In the background of this latest gruesome discovery is the fact that only nine of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action have been fully implemented.


Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for the terms “Canada” or “British Colombia” within close proximity of any of the terms “Catholic,” “Indigenous,” “Kamloops,” “children,” “215,” “Indian,” or “school,” from May 28 through 10 a.m. EDT on June 8, 2021.