Tk'emlups graves report sheds light on study; further work stalled by lack of records | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Tk'emlups graves report sheds light on study; further work stalled by lack of records

Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir (centre) and Tk'emlups te Secwepemc council at the July 15, 2021, report on preliminary gravesite findings near the Kamloops Indian Residential School site.

As the area around Kamloops becomes shrouded by wildfire smoke, the veil of colonialism was further lifted at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School today.

Although oral histories told of children as young a 6 being woken up to dig graves in an apple orchard, it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s when a child's rib bone, and later a child's tooth, were found on the orchard grounds that talks of forensic and archaeological work be conducted to confirm the amount of children buried there.

Indigenous leadership, including Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir, newly elected National Chief Roseanne Archibald, were present at the final report of preliminary radar detection near the grounds of the Indian residential school on July 15, 2021.

Also present at the public event were three survivors who were willing to share some of their experiences at the Kamloops Indian Residential School with the world.

Evelyn Camille attended the school for ten years, and always hid her experiences from her children.

"The Indian residential school taught me to be ashamed of my identity," Camille said. "The residential school was specifically built to take the Indian out of us.... But it did not work."

The crowd cheered and howled in support for her.

After ten years in attendance, she took a college entrance exam and the results showed she had a Grade 4 level of education.

"The Truth and Reconciliation (Commission) — I often wondered 'What the hell does that mean?' Do they want to hear the truth, really? We have tried... and who is going to listen?" she said. "Reconciliation? They threw a few silver coins at us. Did that make me feel better? No. It killed many of our survivors who could not heal themselves from the drugs and alcohol that was introduced to us."

Camille grew up speaking Secwepemcitsn with her family. The school forced her to only speak English while attending but she retained her knowledge and eventually became a Secwepemc language teacher and had a career with School District 73.

Indian residential school survivor Evelyn Camille reflecting on her experiences at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Indian residential school survivor Evelyn Camille reflecting on her experiences at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Dr. Sarah Beaulieu is the ground penetrating radar specialist who lead the technical aspects of the search for gravesites.

Between May 21 and May 24, she analyzed two acres of land, including the apple orchard, near the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park.

The ground penetrating radar revealed gravesites in the two-acre area by showing where soil had been disturbed under the surface. Another important sign is soil depressions, which typically occur when a casket decomposes or collapses under the soil pressure.

Although 215 graves were found through both radar detection and other signs of gravesites, the entire site around the Indian residential school is 160 acres. More graves are expected to be found as work continues.

Dr. Beaulieu says the work has "barely scratched the surface" of what lies in those grounds.

Although the report shed light on some of the technical aspects of the operation, some of the next steps remain to be seen as Tk'emlups te Secwepemc awaits federal leadership and religious groups to cooperate and release their records to the community.

“We are loathe to put the responsibility of identifying those lost on the survivors of Kamloops Indian Residential School who have been traumatized and retraumatized already. Thus, we call upon Prime Minister Trudeau and the Canadian government to share those attendance records as a first step in assisting Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc fulfilling their obligations regarding those lost without acknowledgement and as a step towards reconciliation,” Casimir said at the event.

They are also awaiting the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Catholic order which ran the Indian residential school, to open all of their records to the community.

But their pressure on higher levels of government and religious organizations with heavy hands on school operations will continue, especially as the newly elected Assembly of First Nations Chief Archibald announces her stance and intention to continue conversations with the federal government.

"This is a crime against humanity. This is a crime against little children. The United Nations has called this 'genocide.' We call this 'genocide,'" Archibald said. "As the newly elected national chief, I am working with urgency on the issue of the burial sites across this country and looking for ways to heal the trauma that our people have experienced for generations. I have spoken to prime minister Justin Trudeau and made a reasonable and fair request for more resources and funding to help us look for our little ones who have suffered enough."

Archibald called upon all Canadians to stand with First Nations as the work continues, and call members of higher levels of government "to demand reparations, justice and action."

"(Our people) demand action, not promises, not moments of silence. Our young people are expressing their rage and hurt by toppling statues and burning churches. But we must do more than tear down the symbols of destructive colonization. I ask our allies to stand shoulder to shoulder with us to rebuild, recover, heal and move forward together," Archibald said.

The work at the site continues, as this is a preliminary report. Investigations will continue at the site while the community works to identify all remaining burial sites and identify the children who are buried there.

Following the report, B.C. Premier John Horgan issued a statement commending the work of Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir and Tk'emlups leadership.

"We are taking our guidance from First Nations leadership on this important work. Provincial government leadership will meet with Kúkpi7 Casimir and others from the community to discuss the findings when the Nation feels the time is right," Horgan said in the statement.

The province has allocated $12 million in new funds to research former Indian Residential School sites and for mental health and cultural supports.

Tk'emlups te Secwepemc is one of those communities that will receive that provincial support.

Kukpi7 Casimir has invited Prime Minister Trudeau to the site, but she is "still waiting" for Trudeau to reach out and to release records to them.

Casimir has invited the prime minister to the community's powwow arbor for the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, Sept. 30.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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