Editor’s note: The contents of this article may be disturbing or triggering. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society has a 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-925-4419. Alternatively, the KUU-US Crisis Line is at 1-800-588-8717.
More graves could be found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, a report released Thursday (July 15) from a ground-penetrating radar expert has found. Sarah Beaulieu, of the University of the Fraser, was brought in by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc in order to analyze a small area of the grounds.
Sarah Beaulieu, a ground-penetrating radar expert, has surveyed municipal and Indigenous cemeteries across Canada, as well as being the first to excavate World War II internment sites here.
She said several factors led to this specific area being chosen for further study. Beaulieu said that from May 21-25, an area of just under two acres was examined at an apple orchard near the former residential school. It was chosen because of the oral history of residential school survivors, who remembered children as young as six being woken up in the middle of the night to dig graves, as well as a discovery of a juvenile rib bone and tooth on the site. The tooth was found in the late 1990s or early 2000s, while the rib surfaced in the early 2000s and brought to a museum by a tourist.
The Tk’emlúps announced the news at the end of May, although Chief Rosanne Casimir said that there had long been “a knowing” in the community of the missing children. At the time, the Tk’emlúps said there were 215 unmarked graves found.
Speaking today, Beaulieu said that 200 “targets of interest,” or probable graves were identified by ground penetrating radar on just a small fraction of the residential school’s grounds.
More than 160 acres have yet to be surveyed, leading Beaulieu to say that many more graves could be found. Forensic examinations will need to be conducted to get exact numbers, she added, noting that ground-penetrating radar had reached its limits for the two-acre site surveyed.
Dr. Lisa Hodgetts, president of the Canadian Archaeological Association, said that “we’re talking clearly about thousands and thousands of missing children.
“The funding that’s currently been provided by governments… is going to fall short.”
Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the rest of the federal government to do their part in carrying out the 94 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation in 2015.
“We’re still waiting for you to teach out to us… I look forward to a fulsome conversation where we can finalize the details of supports,” she said, noting that Indigenous Peoples will require both funding to complete the work and access to all residential school records, both from the government and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the order that ran the Kamloops school.
“We are not here for retaliation, we are here for truth-telling, we are here today to honour the children,” she said.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School was one of the biggest in Canada, opening its doors in 1890 and not closing until 1976. It was run by theRoman Catholic Church until 1969, at which point it was taken over by the federal government until its closure in 1976.
Evelyn Camille, an 82-year-old survivor of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, described the atrocities of what happened at the facility. Camille said she spent 10 years at the school. Children were told they could send letters home to their families, which Camille said she used to try and tell her family about what was occurring.
“I tried to explain the abuse that had happened at residential schools,” the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc elder said. “All letters sent home were censored.”
She found out about the discovery of the 215 children when a letter was stuck to her door.
“I didn’t even see who delivered it. I don’t think it was considerate of the elders. I was home alone… I was in shock,” Camille said.
Camille said that the shame she felt over her time at the residential school led her to not speak of what she lived through, even to her children.
“I didn’t want you to know what happened to me,” she told her daughter after the discovery became public.
“I was ashamed. That’s what residential schools taught me… to be ashamed of my identity,” she said. “The residential schools were specifically built to take the Indian out of us… but it did not work.”
While many have called for the grave sites to be excavated, Camille asked what was the use.
“I want the burial site to be left undisturbed. Yes, there may have to be some studies that have to be done… but what good are those studies going to do for us, for an individuals, for me?”
Another residential school survivor, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc elder Leona Thomas described the pain of being taken from her loving family and being pushed to abandon her identity. As a result of her time at the facility, she said she can no longer speak her language.
“I’m sure there’s a subconscious block,” she said.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc elder and survivor Mona Jules described her time at the facility. She entered in 1947, at the age of six.
“It wasn’t by family choice. It was the government’s choice,” she said.
“We were taken away from loving parents, from warm loving families. I cried myself to sleep. I was wondering when my mother going to come and pick me up… rescue me, take me away from this cold place.”
Jules said that her sister died at the residential school and that her parents were not notified until they showed up at the school.
“They wanted to know why she was not taken to a doctor, to a hospital. There were no answers,” she said.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said that every single First Nations person suffers from intergeneration trauma.
“We are all survivors. We are all doing our best to heal and to walk forward with dignity,” Archibald said.
She said that the crimes that led to the deaths of the 215 children in Kamloops, as well as of thousands more across the country, must be prosecuted.
“This is a crime against humanity, this is a crime against little children. The United Nations has called this genocide. We call this genocide.”
Archibald said she has made a “very reasonable” request to Trudeau for more resources to find the rest of the missing children. She urged Canadians to call on their provincial and federal representatives for reparations and more funding to continue searching for missing children.
“There must be truth before reconciliation. Let’s bring our little ones home.”
Casimir said the Tk’emlúps said that next steps will include identifying all of the children through school records, as well as archaeological work.
“This is a long process that will take significant time and resources,” she said.
“We need to now give [the children] the dignity they never had.”
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