In May 2021, the world was shocked when it was reported ground penetrating radar (GPR) had identified as many as 200 possible grave sites at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. Protests and memorials erupted across Canada. The flag was kept at half mast for over six months while a new national holiday was created to recognize damage caused by residential schools. Dozens of churches were burned, and Pope Francis came to Canada to personally apologize for the schools.
Since then, all further investigation of the Kamloops site appears to have inexplicably halted.
The alleged grave sites identified at the Kamloops residential school aren’t like those being identified on other reserves right now. While many reserves have gotten funding and have begun doing ground-penetrating radar (GPR) surveys around the sites of former residential schools, they have mostly been surveying within existing cemeteries. They have been identifying burial sites that likely had wooden markers that deteriorated over time.
At the Kamloops location, however, the area surveyed was in an old apple orchard where it was rumoured murdered children were buried. It was never known as a cemetery.
The allegations made by some former residential school attendees are chilling. They claim children had been killed by priests as late as the 1960s and other children had been forced to dig the graves for the victims in the middle of the night. If these stories are indeed true, why on earth haven’t we begun a full, forensic investigation and exhumed the bodies at the Kamloops site?
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron went further by saying non-indigenous priests and nuns “who are murderers and rapists” are still walking free.
If indeed it is essential to bring home the bodies of the children allegedly murdered at residential schools and if the murderers are still walking among us, why are the activists so reticent when it comes to exhuming the bodies?
The bottom line is that many activists fear no bodies will be found in Kamloops. Years of rhetoric, rage, and some rather lucrative fundraising will come to an end.
Clearly, the RCMP don’t feel murdered children are buried in Kamloops or they would have begun an investigation years ago. In August of this year, Alberta police received a tip about a body from a murder case decades old on a piece of land near the village of Bragg Creek. They immediately set up, surveyed with GPR, and have been digging. In cases of murder, that is a standard part of the investigation. Remains must be found. Could you imagine if authorities never exhumed at the Pickton farm site?
While the alleged murders at the Kamloops site happened within living memory, no families have come forward to claim their children had been lost. With as many as 200 burials, one would expect some families to have been searching.
Past archaeological digs and records of buried septic tiles at the Kamloops residential school site add to the growing evidence there may be no burials there.
There are two potential answers to the mystery of the anomalies identified by GPR at the Kamloops site.
Either 200 children were murdered by priests and secretly buried in the old apple orchard, or there are no bodies and Canada tore its social fabric asunder over a myth.
In either case, we must excavate and determine the truth of what happened at the Kamloops residential school location.
The longer we wait, the harder it will be to track down perpetrators and find families of victims.
The motivations behind those opposing excavations look more questionable as time passes.
If we really value the truth portion of truth and reconciliation, we need to get serious about finding it. It's time to start excavating.