Details surface about assumed residential school grave sites in Kamloops, BC

By Agnieszka Ruck, The B.C. Catholic

The ground-penetrating radar specialist who studied the area near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School has released more details about her findings.

Sarah Beaulieu, who has also used GPR to identify graves of First World War prisoners, searched two acres of land near the school, but “the total number of missing children is currently unknown.”

The orchard area was chosen due to “oral histories” that recall burials in that area and the discoveries of a juvenile rib bone and juvenile tooth in two separate instances in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The tooth was found during a dig on the site, and the rib uncovered by a tourist.

She said graves have certain traits, such as an east-west pattern or a dip above ground that forms after loose soil compacts or a casket breaks down. Shallow graves could be indicative of a child burial or of a grave dug while the ground was frozen.

In her survey, Beaulieu found 200 “anomalies” or “targets of interest” that she believes are possible grave sites. She stressed that hers was a preliminary investigation. “Only forensic investigation with excavation will provide definitive results.”

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) specialist Sarah Beaulieu July 15 provided more information about the GPR process. (Video image – The B.C. Catholic – CCN)

She added “remote sensing such as GPR is not necessary to know that children went missing in Indian residential school contexts. This fact has been known.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has suggested that thousands of children who attended residential schools are “missing,” which they have defined as students who did not return home due to death from illness, running away, or other factors.

The two acres searched are a small fraction of the 160 acres of property in the area.

Beaulieu presented her research during a July 15 press conference with Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation Chief Rosanne Casimir and others as a follow up to the May 27 announcement of the discovery of grave sites.

That earlier announcement had said the remains of 215 children who had been students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School had been found with ground-penetrating radar. Today the presenters clarified that 200 soil anomalies have been identified for further testing to see which ones were grave sites.

“The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc has the responsibility and the obligation to identify the unmarked graves found within our jurisdiction,” said Casimir. She called on the Canadian government and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to “immediately and fully” release all enrolment and other records of every student who ever attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

She also called for funding from the federal and provincial governments to cover costs already incurred in research and security and well as future efforts to “identify, document, maintain, and protect” the remains of children found buried there.

“We understand that students came from across B.C., some from Alberta, and from as far as the Yukon and into the States. To work in the immediate and long term both the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc and the home communities of the missing children need to be fully included and fully and duly resourced.”

She also invited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit Kamloops Sept. 30, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, to hear stories from local survivors.

While Beaulieu was careful to describe her findings as preliminary, others on the panel used harsher words.

Newly elected Assembly of First Nations chief RoseAnne Archibald called the site of unmarked graves a “crime scene.”

“In these sacred lands, Canadians and the world first learned about how 215 innocent children died and were buried in unmarked graves. This is a crime against humanity. This is a crime against little children. The United Nations has called this genocide. We call this genocide. This ground-penetrating radar technology is revealing evidence, undisputable proof that crimes were committed.”

Archibald believes an independent investigation of the site is needed, saying the RCMP’s involvement in an investigation could be seen as a conflict of interest.

President of the Canadian Archeological Association Lisa Hodgetts praised Beaulieu’s report and said her organization is lending its support through providing resources including the creation of a working group on unmarked graves.

“Communities can and should chart their own path at their own pace when it comes to their missing children,” she said.

“This is clearly not something that communities should have to pay for themselves.”

Three residential school survivors also approached the microphone to share their memories. Evelyn Camille attended the school for 10 years and said some children died while trying to flee. “The black robes start lying about the children. ‘Oh yeah they are doing fine here.’ In the meantime they were missing and no one had searched for them,” she said.

Though experts have said the only way to determine the actual number of those buried is to dig, Camille said she would like the site to be left undisturbed. “Yes, they may have to be some studies to be done, but what good are those studies going to do for us, for an individual, for me? It’s going to tell me that yes, they were murdered, but is that going to make me feel better? I don’t think so.”

She added she has sought permission to enter the site and pray for the deceased.

After the press conference, the Archdiocese of Vancouver released a statement repeating Archbishop Miller’s offer to support those suffering due to the residential school system. “We are ready to provide scientific expertise from non-Catholic and world-renowned groups that are offering help. This effort must be desired and directed by Indigenous people, and we will wait to take instruction from them,” the statement said.

“As many Indigenous leaders have stated, there can be no reconciliation without truth. We remain committed to helping the Tk’emlups people continue on their healing journey in any way we can.”