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Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc to release final report on unmarked graves at former Kamloops residential school

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Today, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation is set to present its final report on the unmarked grave sites found adjacent to the former Kamloops Indian Residential School — and to outline what comes next. 

In May, the nation released a statement saying preliminary findings from a survey of the site by ground-penetrating radar, combined with previous knowledge and oral history, indicated 215 children had been buried at the site.

The statement did not specify the company or individual involved in the survey or detail how the work was completed.

“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said in the statement.

“Some were as young as three years old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children.” 

kamloops mourning
Shoes and stuffed animals are photographed on the grounds of the former school on June 4 at a memorial to honour the children who never came home from the institution. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

After the preliminary discovery, the nation said it was working with the BC Coroners Service, contacting the students’ home communities, protecting the remains and working with museums to find records of these deaths.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was in operation from 1890 to 1969, when the federal government took over administration from the Catholic Church to operate it as a residence for a day school, until it closed in 1978.

Up to 500 students would have been registered at the school at any given time, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). Those children would have come from First Nations communities across B.C. and beyond. 

kamloops memorial 215 children
After the preliminary discovery in Kamloops, memorials grew across the country to honour the many children who never made it home. This image shows such a memorial on the stairs of the Vancouver Art Gallery on May 31. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Further searches

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation estimates about 4,100 children died at residential schools in Canada, based on death records, but has said the true total is likely much higher.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission said large numbers of Indigenous children who were forcibly sent to residential schools never returned home.

In the wake of the preliminary discovery in Kamloops, the  Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced a preliminary finding of 751 unmarked graves at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School, which was in operation from 1899 to 1997.

st paul s co cathedral
The doors of St. Paul’s Co-Cathedral in Saskatoon were painted in protest after the discovery of 751 unmarked graves near the former Marieval Residential School on the Cowessess First Nation. (Donna Heimbecker/Facebook)

Cowessess also used ground-penetrating radar to locate the grave sites earlier this month. It was not immediately clear if all the graves are connected to the residential school, which is located about 140 kilometres east of Regina.

Earlier this week, the Penelakut Tribe in B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands announced that more than 160 “undocumented and unmarked” graves have been found in the area, which was also once home to the Kuper Island Residential School. The tribe did not say how the graves were found, whether children’s remains are suspected of being buried there or whether ground-penetrating radar was used. 

The Williams Lake First Nation, located in the Cariboo region of the Central Interior region of B.C., is also preparing to search the site of another former facility, St Joseph’s Mission, which is located a few kilometres from the nation’s community core and operated as a residential school between 1886 and 1981.

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential school and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

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

Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who never came home or residential school staff and operations? Email your tips to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: WhereAreThey@cbc.ca.

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