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