On Thursday, July 15, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc will present its report on the preliminary findings of what are believed to be the remains of 215 children who were students of the former Kamloops indian Residential School.
The report will be shared at the 9 a.m. press conference at 9 a.m. at the Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre in Aberdeen and is being held off-reserve as all suitable on-reserve venues are currently being used to assist wildfire evacuees.
On May 27, the Tk’emlups band announced it had found the remains of children who were students of the school, some as young as three years old, with the help of a ground-penetrating radar survey (GPR) over the Victoria Day long weekend.
Next week’s media event will consist of a presentation on the ground penetrating radar report findings, a technical briefing on the ground penetrating radar work undertaken, what next steps the band will take and statements from Kamloops Indian Residential School survivors and an intergenerational survivor.
Speakers will include Tk'emlúps Chief Rosanne Casimir, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc’s legal counsel, the GPR specialist it used and other experts and the survivors.
That will be followed by a 45-minute question and answer session with the media between 10:15 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
The 215 individual, unmarked graves were located south of the school building near the Secwépemc Museum. The discovery lead to worldwide interest and outcry over the abuses of Canada’s residential school system.
The band, to date, has declined to address questions related to the technical aspects of the use of the ground-penetrating radar, with Casimir having indicated in earlier press events that doing so was premature and that it would be shared in the report. That report was originally intended to be released in mid-June before being delayed to the end of that month, with Casimir noting it was taking longer than expected to complete.
The 215 graves are, to the band’s knowledge, undocumented deaths for which it is still in the process of collecting records.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has identified 52 students who died at the Kamloops Residential School, which operated between 1890 and 1977. The list of deaths range in dates from 1900 to 1971 and are part of the centre’s Missing Children Project. The children’s names are not accompanied by their ages.
The band is also looking into what it can do to repatriate the remains to home communities and conduct archaeological work at the site.
According to the band, the existence of these unmarked grave sites has been long rumoured in its community and work to confirm it has been done in the past, through digs and early versions of ground-penetrating radar — but that was cost- and time-prohibitive. Initial efforts were carried out in the early 2000s.
With access to the latest technology, a breakthrough finally came via Tk’emlups’ administration applying for the Pathways to Healing grant. This latest work was accomplished by the band’s Language and Culture Department, along with ceremonial Knowledge Keepers.
Following the announcement by the Tk'emlups band, the Williams Lake band announced its intention to follow suit and conduct a GPR search of the grounds of the former St. Joseph's Residential School. On June 24, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced it had found 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Marieval Residential School, located about 160 kilometres east of Regina.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School was opened by the federal government under Roman Catholic administration in 1890 and was at one point the largest school in the Indian Affairs residential school system with students from around B.C. and as far away as Alberta and the Yukon. Enrolment peaked in the early 1950s at 500.
Children were forcibly removed from their homes once attendance became mandatory by law in the 1920s, with their parents under threat of prison if they refused. Students lived at the school from September to June, alienated from their family except for Christmas and Easter visits.
In 1969, the federal government took over administration of the school, which no longer provided classes, and operated it as residence for students attending local day schools until 1977, when it was closed.