Much more ground to search at former residential school in Kamloops, expert says

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KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Ground-penetrating radar was used to search an apple orchard at the former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, after a child's rib bone and a tooth were found in the area, says the expert conducting the ongoing investigation.

Local elders and knowledge keepers have also recalled children as young as six being woken in the night to help dig gravesin the orchard, Prof. Sarah Beaulieu of the University of the Fraser Valley told a news conference on Thursday.

"Remote sensing, such as (ground-penetrating radar), is not necessary to know that children went missing in the Indian residential school context," Beaulieu said. "This fact has been recognized by Indigenous communities for generations."

The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified up to 6,000 missing children, but anticipated the actual number is greater, Beaulieu noted.

Remote sensing "merely provides some spatial specificity to this truth," she said.

The search in Kamloops has so far covered less than a hectare of the 65-hectare property, said the specialist with experience examining Indigenous and city cemeteries and searching for the graves of prisoners during the First World War.

Beaulieu showed radar images and outlined the "signatures" of 200 probable burials. Definitive results would come from forensic examination, she said, though some survivors have expressed the desire to leave the site undisturbed.

The Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Nation would consult with its membership at every step of the investigation moving forward, Chief Rosanne Casimir said.

Casimir thanked survivors of the residential school system, saying they have been "unrelenting in carrying those painful truths about missing children forward."

The nation announced in May that the ground-penetrating radar identified what are believed to be the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves. Other Indigenous nations in Canada, including the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, have reported finding remains using the same technology.

Casimir called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the federal government and the Catholic Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to release the complete student attendance records for the Kamloops institution so the nation can fulfil its responsibility to identify and reunite the lost children with their home communities.

"Those primary documents, currently within the custody of the Canadian government, will be of critical importance to identify those lost children," she said, adding children were taken to the institution from across B.C., Alberta and Yukon.

The newly elected national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, RoseAnne Archibald, said ground-penetrating radar is revealing indisputable proof that crimes were committed in Canada's residential school system and must be investigated.

"These are crime scenes and so we need some kind of independent investigation."

Archibald said she is working urgently on the issue of unmarked burial sites, and she has made a reasonable request to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for more funding to support communities searching for lost children at former institutions.

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.

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin issued a joint statement Thursday saying the government is committed to working with the nation and others in support of the "vital work" at all residential school sites.

"We have allocated $12 million in new funding for the research at former residential school sites and for the mental health and cultural supports for communities that are critical for healing," the statement said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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