Kamloops First Nation allegedly distances itself from 'mass grave' claim: report

What was initially reported in a May 27, 2021 announcement as 'confirmation of the remains of 215 children' at the former residential school is now being described as 'roughly 200' anomalies which 'might be unmarked graves.'

Kamloops First Nation allegedly distances itself from 'mass grave' claim: report
The Canadian Press / Jeff McIntosh
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Tk’emlúps First Nation has allegedly distanced itself from the popularized “mass grave claim surrounding a former residential school in Kamloops.

A “sacred covenant” earlier struck between the First Nation, Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller, and Kamloops Bishop Joseph Ngyuen turned a corner Friday in releasing details of their union. 

Last Friday, the text referred to preliminary findings from ground-penetrating radar as “roughly 200” anomalies, “some of which might be unmarked graves of former students.” 

It notes that more research is required “to determine what exists in that part of the former residential school site.”

Even within Tk’emlúps people, there has been significant skepticism around stories of nuns waking children in the night to bury their murdered classmates, reported the National Post.

In the summer of 2022, the office of Chief Rosanne Casimir received an independent site inspection report proposing the “anomalies” were likely the result of ground disturbances going back decades. They cite irrigation ditches, backhoe trenches, and utility and water lines as potential sources.

By then, 14 leading Tk’emlúps families told Casimir to excavate the site and clear things up.

The Trudeau government confirmed last month it spent $7.9 million to uncover unmarked graves at the former residential school, but no remains have been found to date.

“Details of initiatives taken by Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation are best directed to the community,” said Caroline Gratton, spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations. 

The First Nation continues to grieve its lost children. 

The Easter covenant, set in motion by former Tk̓emlúps chief Manny Jules and former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine, received approval from the Vatican in Rome.

The covenant does not appear to shy away from the consequences of federal school policy that was injurious to Indigenous cultures, according to the publication.

Moreover, the document suggests Indigenous peoples and the Catholic Church maintained a warm historical relationship that became convoluted following the ‘misleading’ May 27, 2021 announcement declaring “the confirmation of the remains of 215 children” at the abandoned residential school. 

“This report has caused renewed grief and dismay in Indigenous communities, especially for those who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School and for intergenerational survivors,” according to the Easter covenant’s text. 

“Many of those grieving are devout Catholics who, with others, are seeking solace, affirmation, and accountability from the Catholic Church.”

Following the use of the term “mass grave” in the May 2021 statement, media and politicians jumped at the opportunity to demand answers.

Chief Casimir attempted to set the record straight by calling the survey results “very preliminary” but to no avail. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had already lowered the flag on Parliament Hill and pledged $320 million to assist in the search for “mass graves” across Canada.

She later clarified: “This is not a mass grave, but rather unmarked burial sites that are, to our knowledge, also undocumented.”

However, the die was cast in Kamloops and sowed discord as dozens of churches were vandalized and burned down.

The outrage propelled the destruction of over 60 churches in the summer of 2021.

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.

Last month, Chief Casimir went even further by referring to the “preliminary findings” as “215 anomalies” more than three years after the initial announcement.

The First Nation announced a Day of Reflection in a recent statement after a visit from Pope Francis. 

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 statement.

As of writing, the 215 anomalies at Kamloops Indian Residential School are not confirmed graves, prompting pushback from federal authorities.

A 2023 Senate committee report described questions regarding the 215 alleged 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.”

The Trudeau government previously appointed a special interlocutor, Kimberly Murray, who says Indigenous leaders want Canada to criminalize “denialism.”

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

Rebel News attempted to contact the First Nation but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

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