A Difficult Story

 The “discovery” of the children’s bodies found on the property of the Tk’emlups te Secwopmc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C  has captured the attention and the hearts of Canada.

This residential school operated from the 1890’s to the 1960’s and now in 2021 pronouncements are circling the globe claiming a “discovered” “mass grave”, where the bodies of two hundred and fifteen children have been interred. The clear and intended implication was that the bodies were  hidden purposefully to avoid criminal responsibility. The discovery with the use of ground radar, was now held up as “proof” of the “genocide” of the Indigenous perpetrated by the government of Canada, the Catholic church, and the often not-mentioned Protestant religious groups.  

It is an event or story which leaves even those some distance from the issue, affected, wordless, searching for things to say, or at least some sort of explanation. The death of any child, society’s innocents, layers us in emotion and draws up unstoppable grief. As some anonymous person said, “losing a child is like losing your breath… and never getting it back”. It is routinely described as unimaginable and easily overwhelming. It is a difficult story, but there is a problem— it is not totally accurate. 

It seems that we have reached a state of affairs in this country where one must question almost all that is being written or reported in the main stream media. It is becoming painfully apparent that almost everyone has an agenda, whether it be political, or social, and, it is permanently warping our ability to trust. Context is almost always missing. Instead, we are being fed polar views delivered by the loudest insistent voices of there being only one truth. In this case, there is the immediate gush of fury, followed by outlandish statements and demands for retribution. There is a palpable governmental and corporate fear of being on the wrong side of any issue and the  factual information is lost in the rush to judgement. 

By putting the deaths of children in “grisly” and “shocking” terms, the headlines wrote themselves. All who may have been directly or indirectly involved are immediately identified and placed on the wrong side of the  blame spectrum; accusing fingers pointing at the presumed guilty, the stain of that guilt never to be removed. History has shown us many times that this quick need to assign fault, the ignoring of rational alternative records, has not served us well, nevertheless we rarely learn. 

To ask questions, to examine the record, of that which is being portrayed in this residential school story, risks insulting the mainstream. Alternate stories are guaranteed to offend almost all who only see black and white. Be forewarned, I am about to offend those of you who only think in straight lines. That rationale that it has been said therefore it is true. Reality is that almost always the facts are found in various shades of grey. Often, a single one-sided glance can be deceptive. 

These deaths are difficult to process, but it was equally dismaying to see the commentary on the news; the reporting of the deaths as a “genocide” a “crime scene” of unequalled proportions all of which reverberated through the radio, television and print media.  Children “stolen” from their homes and culture. The media in its various forms showing no compunction in knowingly feeding the fire of outrage. The oft repeated story portrayed intrepid searchers stumbling across the evidence of heinous crimes. An unmarked grave site, where children were buried in anonymity. Predictably, politicians of every stripe, climbed on board the indignation train, innuendo solely fed by untested claims of criminality. 

Jagmeet Singh, the Federal leader of the NDP, dramatically, breathlessly, and tearfully, literally unable to speak. The Liberal Apology Party, having apologized several times before, to no avail,  are now demanding apologies from the Vatican— a political sleight of hand designed to make you look the other way. The wokes scurrying around the country trying to hide the statues of Sir John A., the now damned originator of residential schools. 

The purpose of this post is not to examine the policy of the residential schools. Was it an attempt by colonists to wipe out the Indigenous culture, or on the other hand was it an effort to assimilate and educate? The answer is likely somewhere in the middle. The current accepted view was that it was a misguided policy at the very best and it is likely equally clear that many of those involved in the early years were unconcerned at the time with preserving the “culture” of the First Nations. That is a never ending circular debate. The purpose of this post is to merely examine what the evidence actually shows up to this point in time. 

The early reports of the findings by the use of “ground radar” gave one the impression of it being an unexpected  “grisly discovery”. Grisly yes, but it was not a “discovery”. 

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in examining residential schools identified the names of, or information about, more than 4100 children who died of the 150,000 children (some estimates are lower at 3200 children). That represents a fatality rate of 2.7%, or if one accepts the lower rate, 2.13%. 

In 1950, in Canada, the infant mortality rate was 2.92%. A higher death rate nationally than in the residential schools. 

That aside, that children were dying in saddening numbers in the years of the residential schools is a fact. However, the biggest killer in 1900 was pneumonia and influenza and those two illnesses alone recorded 202 deaths per 100,000 people in Canada. There were other killer diseases lurking: smallpox, typhus, cholera, yellow fever, and tuberculosis. TB by itself was widespread in children after WWI.  It was also deadlier, as it was slow to recognize, as it affected the glands, bones and joints rather than the lungs. Those children that contracted tuberculosis had a very low survival rate. So this is being reported as a “genocide” when to date, there has been no evidence of anyone being purposefully killed. 

The second question was why were they then placed in unmarked graves on the property? Was this an attempt to hide wrong doing? There is a simpler but yet unpalatable answer. The cost of returning the bodies to the families was prohibitive during those austere times. That has been documented. Secondly, record keeping in those times both on the Reserves and by the Church were spotty at best and often totally absent. Many children had only their assigned names and a guess as to their true age.

So the children were by necessity, dictated by the times, buried on the property. The fact that the children were buried on the sites of the residential schools throughout the country— some in unmarked graves, others in marked graves, has been known for a very long time. 

The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement had already recognized that there were 139 residential schools across the country. (These are only those that received Federal support, there were others run solely by religious orders or provincial governments).  An undertaking to return the bodies to the families would be, even to this day,  a logistical nightmare.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 in releasing their report even included a section on missing children and burial grounds. They recommended 94 calls to action. One of those calls was for the the Federal government to work with churches, indigenous communities, and former students “to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children”. 

So two years ago, in the 2019 budget the Liberal Federal government allocated $32 million to implement the burial recommendations. There is still $27 million left. Now, Mr. Trudeau says the government is leaping into action and is going to distribute the money “on an urgent basis”.  These graves were not uncovered and fully documented sooner for a simple reason—government and Indigenous bureaucratic inefficiency. We should also keep in mind that the Provincial government paid for the examination of the the Kamloops residential school site. This clearly was not a cover up. 

There is the additional claim running rampant as part of the cover up theory— that the Catholic Church and the Federal government is withholding records from the schools. 

In fact, the Federal government did indeed destroy documents related to the residential “school system between 1936 and 1944, including 200,000 Indian Affairs files”. Were the records destroyed as a result of a governmental cover-up, or were they destroyed as a matter of routine?  Government records often run on a twenty-five or fifty year timeline. One could presume that death records of any kind should never be destroyed, but that is a separate issue. 

In the early times of the residential schools, accurate record keeping was in short supply. Children were coming in from Indigenous communities where there were often no records of births or deaths, that was the custom. The schools upon receiving these children, were also seemingly sparse with their documentation when compared to standards of the  21st century. Also contrary to the current reporting, in fact, records at the Kamloops residential school have already been provided. It showed only fifty one deaths compared to the two hundred and fifteen, but is that the result of poor  and absent record keeping, or was it a conspiracy to only reveal some of them? 

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the academic director at the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia, stated that the records from the Kamloops residential school had not been provided to the Truth and Reconciliation group. However, she admits that the “churches handed over most residential school records, but in a few cases, the narratives were withheld, notably at Kamloops and St Annes (in Ontario)” So the Church records, like the children’s bodies were and are hiding in plain sight. The fact that no one has acted on them is probably the story that should be pursued.  

The final question is whether or not this is a site where there is evidence of criminal activity.  Is it as NDP MP Leah Gazan says, that all the residential schools are the sites of “active crime scenes”?

Well no, they are not crime scenes, because crime scenes need to have evidence or confirmation of wrong doing. Now some may argue that the stories told by the Indigenous “survivors”, is evidence enough of criminality. In recent years we seem to have taken the approach that allegations standing by themselves are sufficient evidence of wrong doing. As any homicide investigator will tell you, that is an untenable position.

Little is yet known as to the condition of the bodies. Ground radar (actually it works like sonar) shows very little, other than shapes in the ground. The exhumation of the bodies and subsequent pathology could possibly show evidence of assault, or lead to estimations of causes of death, but to pronounce it so, so early in the investigation is unprincipled. 

Was there wrongdoing at the schools in the form of physical abuse or sexual deviance? Lets ask the current Armed Forces or the RCMP whether its possible that their organizations have been open to abuse and sexual assaults over the last number of years? Would we think the Catholic churches any different?  It would seem impossible that the Catholic church, whose wrongdoings have been hauntingly exposed during the last several years around the world, would not be guilty of some criminal offences over such a lengthy span of time. However, the evidence in the burial site will not likely aid that level or type of investigation.  

Even if  one is to assume that this was in fact a crime scene, then it should be suggested that the RCMP do more than “offer its full support” to the First Nations who are now in attendance and overseeing the “crime scene”.  A crime scene by the way, which will now be forever tainted in the event something is discovered amongst the bodies. The RCMP, if they believe that this is a possible crime scene, should be taking charge and control of the scene if that were the case. Instead, the Minister Bill Blair says the RCMP continues to go forward with its “work towards reconciliation”

Mr. Blair also apologizes for the RCMP having performed according to the law and carried out the “clear and unavoidable role”.  He is late to that apology, probably confused, because Commissioner Zaccardelli apologized in 2004, and then Commissioner Paulson apologized in 2014. 

Despite all these inconsistencies, the fallout damage in the reporting on the residential school  is now done. The political gains that the Indigenous movement hoped to engender have been cemented. The world is now believing that Canadian history includes the genocide of their Indigenous population. 

Now, of course, when pressed on the word “genocide” the spokespersons are falling  back to the more acceptable argument of  “cultural genocide. And, only yesterday an Indigenous spokesperson walked backed away from the “mass grave” description and now clarifies the record to say that they were actually “individual” un-marked grave sites. 

The Perry Bellegarde’s of the Indigenous movement will now proffer up the discoveries as a lever to aid in the battle to get passed– the recently introduced Liberal legislation Bill C-15— the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples Act. Who would dare to question the bill, while expressing their overwhelming guilt in the treatment of the Indigenous. There is a valid argument that this future Act could give the Indigenous possible veto power over the economic development of Canada. One would have to be incredibly naive to think for a moment that this point has been lost on the Indigenous leadership in Canada. 

In the next few months,  monies will be provided for further examination of marked and un-marked grave sites throughout the country, a process which could take years and years of painstaking “investigation”. The Mounties will no doubt dutifully continue to “standby” and “provide support”.  Commissioner Lucki will be the lead social worker.  

The Indigenous can and will be encouraged by the media to continue to narrate the verbal claims of abuse and “incarceration” at the schools. The dominant reported narrative, like the one surrounding the Indigenous Missing Women’s task force, will remain by its very origin, clearly slanted. The masses will be satiated with apologies or flowered monuments. The truth will have to surface on another day and in another time. 

Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Mark Miller will continue to ask the Pope for an apology as there preferred policy option. It is interesting to note that Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto of the Catholic Church, said that he felt Trudeau’s comments were “unhelpful” and “not based on real facts”.  Amen to that. 

That truth is that children were removed from often desperate situations and sent to sparse boarding schools during a time of disease and illness— ailments from which this country could not protect them; run by religious groups who brought with them there own inherent dysfunctions. This is a difficult story, but up to this point in time, only a partial story. 

Photo Courtesy of Flickr via Creative Commons by GotoVan – Some rights Reserved

18 thoughts on “A Difficult Story

  1. Thanks for your perspective. I agree with your point that disease in crowded schools in the first half of the last century (and before) is probably the reason for most of the deaths. A death rate of 215 over ca. 75 years of operation is just under 3 children per year–perhaps higher than normal, but may well be “explained” by a few bouts of severe infectious diseases. Crowded schools, dysfunctional religious orders, little medical expertise (or medicines), and a touching faith in the power of prayer to heal the sick likely all were contributing factors.

    I was pleased to read that one of the local chiefs was clarifying the record and emphasized that there was no “mass burial”, and that this was something the media was disseminating. However, missing from the discussion so far is the credibility of the ground penetrating radar (GPR) used to come up with the estimate of 215 bodies. Unless the resolution is higher than I think it is, I think GPR can only identify anomalous masses in the soil, not reliably identify skeletal material. Can anyone with direct experience comment on this?–I do wonder if over zealous interpretation of the images may have led to a substantial overestimate of the true number. This is not to minimize the tragedy of the death of any child, but in the context of general childhood mortality rates typical of a century ago, they may not be as extreme as the baldly stated number seems. But that, of course, is a nuanced analysis that modern culture sadly seems to want to avoid… and it will take years to do the proper examination of all the potential grave sites.

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  2. Great story. Too often we are led by information presented by media who are only interested in sensationalism. The truth is slow to develop and often in the end it is mundane in comparison to shocking news built on only partial and incorrect facts. I really enjoy your insight into these controversial issues.

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  3. Excellent detailed summary of how we have been manipulated to think and do, in spite of evidence to the contrary. If everyone shares this with all media outlets, print and visual, plus politicians we may have the opportunity to let THE TRUTH SHINE, so everyone will know and understand the true facts, not what has been manufactured by media, native communities and politicians.
    Dave Brewer,

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  4. Thanks for having the courage to objectively state what no Canadian politician or media outlet will. That is truly the dangerous part to this sad story.

    On Tue, Jun 8, 2021, 11:19 Behind the Yellow Tape, wrote:

    > Pete Cross posted: ” The “discovery” of the children’s bodies found on > the property of the Tk’emlups te Secwopmc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C > has captured the attention and the hearts of Canada. This residential > school operated from the 1890’s to the 1960’s and now in” >

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  5. Thanks for this article Pete, so many have been swayed to believe the worst in this improper reporting.
    Who gets to reveal the facts?
    I hope it’s sooner than later and is considered to be what really happened.
    Great supporting research.
    Cheers bud.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The thirty’s was a hard time for a lot of countries and infant mortality was a lot worse than in Canada. And those schools were solely to educate and improve the Indian way of life and that they did.

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  6. Thank you for this, Peter. When reading of residential homes it is good to imagine a 19th century missionary leaving the comfort of a European home and family, travelling the Atlantic and perhaps across Canada to a remote wilderness residential home with harsh Canadian winters, hot summers, black flies, disease, discomfort, inadequate food, loneliness, and lack of modern medicine – and then actually staying to teach children for many years. Does this sound like a monster – or perhaps someone living out the call from Jesus to go and preach the Gospel? Were some abusive and dysfunctional? Surely, but it is difficult to believe that there were not some (or many) truly well-meaning caring souls manning the schools. It is wearying reading column after column from well fed journalists typing from the comfort of their heated or air conditioned homes that all of these nuns and priests were abusive monsters. Do the homework.

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  7. Very thoughtful and well re-searched commentary. Political correctness is a bigger threat to society than CV 19. Politicians run to the latest PC fire not with water, but gasoline. The pedophile-protecting pope has already said he won’t apologize https://www.elliotlaketoday.com/around-ontario/canada-indigenous-leaders-frustrated-after-pope-passes-on-apology-for-residential-schools-3853704. While incompetence, dis-interest and racism were doubtless causes of all that went wrong at these schools, by far the worst offences were, without question and as they continue to be today, the responsibility of the various churches involved. People who profess to be loving and caring but who in fact were and are the very opposite. The locations of many gravesites have long been known in the indigenous communities but police, government, bureaucrats and governments just didn’t want to know about them. Now, they are all on the bandwagon. The principle offenders were the Anglicans and the RCC. Both of which have been thoroughly and successfully sued for their pedophile ways. As a result both churches have had to sell off a lot of their property across Canada to pay for the reparations. It is not enough. Now, we will see Trudeau, a confessed catholic, try to downplay the RCC’s role and response. With the religious, the church always comes first, the congregants a distant third.

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  8. I do believe that there were deaths at the residential schools but they were not likely criminal
    we have to think that that grave site was or is extended over some 90 +- years during this time
    there was no cell phones and any other type of communication that we have now.
    Also during this era there was something called the Spanish flue, Diptheria,, T B , Smallpox
    and numerous other deadly diseases for which there was no vacine or inoculation
    so tom jump on the band wagon and blame the Catholic church or any other church is totally
    not good reporting by the media

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  9. What a pleasure to read a well researched and informative article. Too bad there is not more of this type of jounalism.

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  10. Well said. The media and politicians have irreverently tried to senationalize a sad part of the under-resourced residential school system.

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  11. Thank goodness someone is willing to tell the real story. The media is a disgrace, especially on Vancouver Island. Canada is tarnished forever by this misinformation. We wish everyone would read this story!

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  12. Your comparison of the death rate among residential students to the Canadian Infant Mortality Rate is inappropriare. The infant mortality rate refers to deaths under the age of 1 year old, a rate that is much higher than in school age children.

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    1. Hi John, I agree that it is not the most appropriate comparison. The idea was to give some idea as to infant and child deaths during those early times. The biggest problem is the stats for ages 7-15 for example, simply weren’t being gathered in the early 20th century, they were recorded but not with an easily compiled data by age (even the data being gathered and pronounced by the Indigenous varied greatly) The idea was to show that but that in the end those were difficult times and the rates of death inside the residential schools probably did not vary to any degree from greater society at the time. And equally, there is no evidence been produced to show that it was different, at least not yet.

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  13. I policed and lived with our Indians throughout my 29 yr. career with our Indians investigating their sudden deaths, suicides and murders over that span. I dealt with their “code of silence” and fact that they were taught to distrust and refuse co-operation with police, that coming from Indian leadership itself.
    It is no wonder we continue to face worsening problems in relationship with them on and off reserve. I speak from first hand experience!

    Like

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