B.C. First Nation calls unmarked Kamloops graves 'anomalies'

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation's updated "Day of Reflection" statement now describes the 215 findings from ground-penetrating radar at the Kamloops Indian Residential School as "anomalies," rather than child remains.

B.C. First Nation calls unmarked Kamloops graves 'anomalies'
The Canadian Press / Jeff McIntosh
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Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation has changed gears on unmarked graves in Kamloops, referring to them as “anomalies” rather than mass graves.

The First Nation announced a Day of Reflection in a recent statement after three years of public outrage, a visit from Pope Francis and dozens of churches either damaged or destroyed in the wake of the alleged burial site.

The call to action employed similar language as the 2021 declaration, replacing “children” with “anomalies.”

“With the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist, the stark truth of the preliminary findings came to light — the confirmation of 215 anomalies were detected,” reads the Day of Reflection statement.

This was a change from the original statement, which read, "This past weekend, with the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist, the stark truth of the preliminary findings came to light — the confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School."

Sheldon Poitras, the project lead for a residential school grave search in Saskatchewan, earlier clarified that unmarked graves could contain sediments and not bodies.

“GPR [ground-penetrating radar] can’t definitively say that’s something,” he said, especially since GPR is widely considered an unreliable diagnostic tool.

“It could be a stone under the ground, it could be a clump of clay, it could be a piece of wood or it could be something,” noted Poitras. “We don’t know yet.”

As of writing, the 215 anomalies at Kamloops Indian Residential School are not confirmed graves.

Yet, a Senate committee 2023 report described questions regarding documentation of the 215 graves as “Residential School denialism.”

“Denialism serves to distract people from the horrific consequences of Residential Schools and the realities of missing children, burials and unmarked graves,” said the Senate Indigenous Peoples Committee report Honouring The Children Who Never Came Home.

It recommended that “the Government of Canada take every action necessary to combat the rise of Residential School denialism.”

Governor General Mary Simon earlier blamed unnamed media for propagating “denialism.” Unidentified media are trying to “control the story of Indigenous peoples,” she said.

The Trudeau Liberals previously appointed a special interlocutor, Kimberly Murray, who says Indigenous leaders want Canada to move on criminalizing “denialism” and has written recommendations for the same.

On May 8, the Trudeau government confirmed it spent millions to uncover unmarked graves at the former Kamloops residential school, with no success.

A spokesperson for the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations disclosed a $7.9 million taxpayer bill at the time. 

“The community had received $7.9 million for field work, records searches and to secure the Residential School grounds,” said Carolane Gratton, spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations. “Details of initiatives taken by Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation are best directed to the community,” she added.

The First Nation “continues to grieve children that are in our care and are focused on the scientific work that needs to be done,” reads a statement that refrained from discussing the funds.

After the alleged discovery of graves three years ago, the federal government approved $3.1 million for a national Residential Schools Student Death Register and another $238.8 million for a Residential Schools Missing Children Community Support Fund, which expires in 2025.

The ensuing outrage propelled the vandalism and burning of over 60 churches that summer.

An updated incident map from True North showed at least 96 churches had been destroyed, burned or vandalized in Canada since the spring of 2021.

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