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Missing Children and Burial Information (71-76)

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc says ‘215’ search for truth continues

May 27, 2024

Chief, experts say anniversary an important time to counter residential school denialism

A hand painted stone that says "Every Child Matters" is seen amongst grass in the foreground, in front of a large red brick building.
A hand-painted stone lies in the grass at a memorial outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., on June 1, 2023. Around 200 potential unmarked burial sites were discovered in the area in 2021, according to preliminary results. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

CBC Indigenous: The Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc say the search for truth and inter-generational healing continues for missing children and survivors at the Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS), three years after the announcement of preliminary evidence suggesting around 200 sets of remains were buried on the former school grounds sparked a national movement.

For many, May 27, 2021, is associated with the number 215, the initial number given for the potential buried remains the First Nation said it found. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc later clarified the preliminary ground-penetrating radar survey had found about 200 potential burial sites on the grounds.

“We remain steadfast in our sacred duty as guardians to the missing children from the Kamloops Indian Residential School,” Chief Kúkpi7 Rosanne Casimir said in a statement Monday.

The nation observed May 23, the anniversary of the completion of the initial radar survey, as a day of reflection for Le Estcwicwéy̓, the missing.

And on Monday, Casimir expressed her love to survivors of all residential schools and thanks to the more than 128 communities and 32 nations whose children were required to go to KIRS.

“No words are sufficient to express the comfort and love we wish to convey to you,” she said. “We see you, we love you and we believe you.”

And to other nations completing their own searches, she said: “We grieve with you and stand with you as you continue with your own investigations.”

A woman in a red blazer sits at a table with orange flags behind.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir speaks at a presentation as the First Nation releases a report outlining the findings of a search of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School property using ground-penetrating radar, in Kamloops, B.C., on July 15, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The findings are being kept confidential to preserve the integrity of the investigation — which is using archival documentation, interviews with survivors, archaeological surveys and forensic analysis, including DNA — but are consistent with the presence of unmarked burials to date, Casimir added.

“The investigation continues to be carried out in compliance with Secwépemc laws, legal traditions, world views, values and protocols,” said Casimir.

Anniversaries bring spike of denialism: experts

Casimir says despite elders and survivors of KIRS having spoken about children dying and disappearing for years, the nation’s difficult and emotional work has been met with scrutiny and skepticism.

“Men speak of, as boys, attending Kamloops Indian Residential School, being woken in the middle of the night and asked to dig holes that seemed like graves, in the dark, and not being told why,” she said.

However Casimir thanked the “allies” who had spoken out against the backlash and rising waves of denialism, stressing that truth “must be upheld.”

“There have always been those who target Indigenous people in Canada, with systemic racism and white supremacy as foundational to Canada as the very federal laws that ripped our children away from home, in cattle trucks and police cars, to bring them to the residential schools.”

Sensitive anniversaries like Monday are often targeted by residential school denialists trying to “twist and distort the truth” to shake confidence in the importance of truth and reconciliation, said Sean Carleton, an assistant professor of history and Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba.

“I think it’s important that as people are perhaps paying attention to the anniversary of the Kamloops announcement, of the preliminary findings, that it is a moment to also debunk many of the denialist talking points that often spread at this time of the year,” he said.

A cross with an orange tshirt on it.
A cross with a child’s dress hanging on it is pictured along the highway outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School at a growing memorial on June 4, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Angela White, executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, says the last three years of public attention to the searches and renewed denialism have been difficult for survivors and families of Le Estcwicwéy̓.

“What they really want is to have their words documented and saved so that that history is not forgotten, that history is not lost,” she said.

“And those loved ones that were tossed away and discarded like they meant nothing, at least they know that their truth will be out there, and that the families never did forget.”

It’s an important time for non-Indigenous people in Canada to reflect and educate themselves as well to find “where you can participate in making sure that those voices are not silenced,” said White.

“All we can do is make sure that the healing continues and that these communities are allowed to grieve, because they have buried that hurt and that pain for so many years.”

A woman stands looking strong and off camera.
Angela White, executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, says anniversaries are difficult times for survivors and families of the missing children who may never get answers. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Support is available for anyone affected by their own experience at residential schools or intergenerational trauma, or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

With files from Jenifer Norwell, Courtney Dickson and Moira Wyton