Discovery of a juvenile rib bone and tooth about two decades ago, along with oral history detailing children being awakened to dig holes in the ground, preceded the recent discovery of more than 200 unmarked graves on grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
That information and more was revealed by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc at a presentation on Thursday (July 15) at the Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre.
Ground-penetrating radar expert Dr. Sarah Beaulieu of the University of the Fraser Valley led the search of two acres of land south of the school building, not far from the South Thompson River.
Beaulieu has extensive experience in the use of the technology, having surveyed municipal and Indigenous cemeteries across Canada, along with Second World War internment sites.
The ground-penetrating radar search was conducted between May 21 and May 25 in the two acres of the apple orchard just south of the brick building that housed the school, which operated from 1890 to 1977.
On May 27, Tk’emlúps Kúpki7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said 215 unmarked graves had been located, but with 160 acres of land yet to be probed, Beaulieu said there may be more graves found.
She said 200 “targets of interest” — likely graves — were identified by the technology on the two acres searched.
Dr. Lisa Hodgetts, president of the Canadian Archaeological Association, noted the Kamloops Indian Residential School was one of 139 residential schools across Canada.
She said there were also many more day schools.
“We are talking clearly about thousands and thousands of missing children,” Hodgetts said.
Casimir said the next steps involve looking at student records to identify those in the graves. She said the band needs full disclosure of records from the federal government and from the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Catholic order that administered the Kamloops school from the 1890s to 1969, then it was taken over by Ottawa.
Casimir said every student who attended the school are in those records and she called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Oblates to provide the records immediately.
Casimir said the band its seeking to establish a healing centre and an oral telling project for residential school survivors, noting Tk’emlúps needs funding and access to experts “to bring truth to light and peace to the families of the missing children.”
Casimir also called on the prime minister to connect with Tk’emlups.
“We are still waiting for you to reach out to us,” Casimir said as she addressed Trudeau from the podium. She issued an invitation for the prime minster to visit the band’s powwow arbour on Sept. 30 as it marks the new federal statutory holiday, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Recently elected Assembly of First Nations Kúkpi7 RoseAnne Archibald was also in Kamloops for the event.
“Let’s also remember all of the little ones who never made it home,” she said. “This was a crime against humanity, a crime against children. The UN calls it genocide. We call it genocide. These are not discoveries. These are recoveries. Even after these institutions of assimilation and genocide closed, survivors and their families continue to suffer.”
Residential school survivors Evelyn Camille, Leona Thomas and Mona Jules also spoke of their traumatic experiences while attending the Kamloops Indian Residential School. That story will be posted separately to kamloopsthisweek.com.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse.
The number is 1-866-925-4419.