After a month-long excavation of a former residential school, a Catholic church basement has procured no evidence of human remains.
Pine Creek First Nation and Brandon University researchers started excavating 14 anomalies underneath Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church last month. A team of researchers made the discovery last year using ground-penetrating radar.
While the community found 57 additional anomalies around the church and residential school, the initial excavation focused on the church basement.
The Pine Creek residential school, operated by the Roman Catholic Church, remained open from 1890 to 1969 in different buildings on the land, including the church.
Chief Derek Nepinak of Minegoziibe Anishinabe said on Friday the outcome takes “nothing away from the difficult truths experienced by our families who attended the residential school in Pine Creek.”
“As a community, we were preparing for more than one possible outcome, which meant we would prepare for the worst but hope for the best.”
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation records indicated 21 students allegedly died at the Pine Creek school from abuse.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children forcibly attended residential schools in Canada.
Nepinak said the results would undoubtedly fuel “residential school denialism,” but urged people to continue supporting the search for truth.
“The results of our excavation under the church should not be deemed as conclusive of other ongoing searches and efforts to identify reflections from other community processes including other [ground-penetrating radar] initiatives,” he said.
“This does not mark the end of our truth-finding project.”
Before the excavation commenced, a Senate committee recommended the federal government ban “residential school denialism,” without first defining the term.
“Of real concern to the committee is the small group of vocal individuals who try to undermine survivors’ accounts of the hardships and abuse they experienced at Residential Schools,” they said.
“Denialism serves to distract people from the horrific consequences of Residential Schools and the realities of missing children, burials and unmarked graves,” said the report Honouring The Children Who Never Came Home.
The committee recommended that “the Government of Canada take every action necessary to combat the rise of residential school denialism,” without indicating what would fall into this category.
In May 2021, Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., reported the discovery of suspected remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school.
Nationwide outrage ensued and the alledged graves became a catalyst for Truth and Reconcilation, while propelling vandalism and the burning of over 60 churches across the country in the summer of 2021.
As of writing, no remains have been unearthed at the Kamloops site. But the committee contends investigations of the potential burial sites could take upwards of two decades to complete.
According to Blacklock's Reporter, the federal government provided $7.9 million to perform a search of the Kamloops site, in addition to $3.1 million for a national Residential Schools Student Death Register.
In October 2021, excavation crews unearthed only debris at Edmonton’s Camsell Hospital after ground-penetrating radar detected 34 anomalies in the area surrounding the facility, reported the CBC.
The hospital formerly treated Indigenous people with tuberculosis for decades, which led some to believe former patients may have been buried on the grounds.
In conjunction, reports of physical, mental and sexual abuse, accounts of forced sterilization, shock therapy and medical experimentation intensified calls for the excavation.
However, the absence of human remains concluded the need for further searches of the site.