It remains early days as the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation continues to investigate its findings of what is believed to be the remains of 215 children buried in separate unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School.
Speaking to reporters in a virtual press conference on Friday (June 4), eight days following the revelation, Tk’emlúps Chief Rosanne Casimir said it was “only the beginning” and clarified the discovery by ground-penetrating radar is not a mass grave, but rather individual, unmarked grave sites.
Casimir said the band’s findings are preliminary and a full report is expected to be completed by the end of June, which will be shared with band members, home communities of residential school students and the media.
Casimir did not address questions related to the technical aspects of the use of the ground-penetrating radar, noting the band's findings and the technical aspects of the investigation will be laid out in the report.
“For all the questions regarding the technology, costs and details of the findings, know that we will share when we get to that point,” Casimir said. “Asking now is very premature at this time.”
The band, in its announcement on May 27, said 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 on the Victoria Day long weekend.
The technology uses radio signals to detect changes in the soil and can be applied to look for the presence of graves, but does not work like an X-ray.
“There is still so much work left to be done,” Casimir said. “Now is the time that we do some important grieving and healing work in our own communities.”
Documents outstanding from Oblates
To the band’s knowledge, the 215 unmarked graves are undocumented and it is working with the Royal BC Museum and other groups to find documents pertaining to the deceased.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba has on its website a list of the names of 52 children who died while at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, with dates of deaths ranging from 1900 to 1971. They are part of the centre’s Missing Children Project.
To date, Casimir said, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate — the religious order that ran the Kamloops Indian Residential School — has not released any records.
Oblates spokesperson Father Ken Thorson told KTW on May 31 the congregation has reached out to Casimir to offer assistance and its sympathies.
Thorson said the records from the Kamloops Indian Residential School are with the Royal BC Museum, noting the Victoria museum had been in contact with the Secwépemc Museum at Tk'emlúps regarding school records before the May 27 announcement regarding the remains of the children being found.
Thorson noted the Oblates have priests and brother across Canada.
"And, so, there may be records elsewhere. We're looking into that right now," he said. "We are looking into that and whatever else we have related to the school. Of course, we would want to make that available to the investigation."
In 1991, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate publicly apologized for the role it played in the residential school system. There have also been apologies from individual dioceses for the residential school system since this news of the discovery at Tk’emlúps broke.
Casimir said Tk’emlúps wants a public apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, something Pope Francis has refused to do, even after a request to do by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his 2017 visit to the Vatican. This week, Trudeau renewed his call for an apology from the pope.
“Not just for us, but for the world who also shared in those suffrages,” Casimir said. “There has never been an apology from the Roman Catholics.”
Casimir said she has had an initial meeting with Kamloops Bishop Joseph Nguyen, noting the band is following up on word that the Archbishop of Vancouver, J. Michael Miller has already shared record information with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. On June 2, Miller issued an apology for the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s role in the residential school system, an apology that followed one he gave to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2013.
When it comes to identifying the remains, the band is receiving assistance from the BC Coroners Service and RCMP and Casimir said Tk’emlúps has had initial meetings with both organizations.
Addressing the call some have made for the former Kamloops Indian Residential School building to be torn down, Casimir said the brick structure will remain standing.
“We know some residential schools have been torn down,” she said. “For us, it is a huge piece of history that we do not want to be forgotten.”
She said the band wants the building to remain in place so that its history and “ugly truth” can serve as a lesson and reminder for future generations.
“On the grounds where our language, our culture, was targeted to be eradicated, we are reclaiming our culture and revitalizing our language,” Casimir said.
Some residential school survivors have said the building should be torn down, with one telling KTW he’d like to see something positive, such as a park, erected in its place. Various businesses now operate out of the building.
Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kamloops This Week