The Knowns and Unknowns of the Kamloops Burials

By Hymie Rubenstein
Hymie Rubenstein
Hymie Rubenstein
Hymie Rubenstein is editor of The REAL Indian Residential Schools Newsletter and a retired professor of anthropology at the University of Manitoba.
May 24, 2022Updated: May 24, 2022


The announcement by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc indigenous band of Kamloops, B.C. on May 27, 2021, about finding remains of 215 children on the grounds of an Indian Residential School instantly became headline news worldwide, even though the band’s press release said that “At this time we have more questions than answers.”

Across Canada, the meagre information given was sufficient to provoke mournful vigils, flags on government buildings lowered to half-mast for months, statues of former Canadian heroes defaced and destroyed, and the destruction, vandalism, or desecration of some 70 churches whose denominations ran most of the schools.

Nearly all of Canada has accepted the claim made by the band based on ground-penetrating radar (GPR) data as absolute truth: the mainstream media, the political class, the churches, the intelligentsia, and most ordinary Canadians.

The Kamloops school was alleged to have been a concentration camp, the burials evidence of a horrific crime, and the entire IRS system a heretofore hidden “Holocaust” or “final solution” wickedly perpetrated by Canada against its indigenous population.

But on the first anniversary of one of the most shocking announcements in Canadian history, there are even more questions than answers: Why was so much emphasis given to the results of the inconclusive technique called ground penetrating radar; why are new GPR searches planned for the same reserve when the details of the previous one have not been revealed; why were these GPR investigations given top priority when better sources of information are easily available; why has the site still not been excavated to uncover the physical remains; why did no reporter except one bother to visit the site to do some investigative journalism; and why were the potentially fallible spiritual “knowings” of indigenous knowledge keepers privileged over historical records located in school, church, and public archives?

None of these questions has even been asked, let alone answered, by the Kamloops band. Yes, it was confirmed four days after the press release that the band was “engaging with the coroner,” but this has gone nowhere. There was also early talk about exhuming the graves, but this hasn’t happened. As for the site being treated as a crime scene, the RCMP say they opened a file on the case, but there is no ongoing investigation.

Of all these unknowns, the leading one is never mentioned: the relationship between the unnamed children said to be buried in these graves and the named students listed as missing.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), the successor to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has initiated the Missing Children Project documenting the deaths of children who perished while attending the schools but whose cause of death and place of burial are unknown. To date, 4,115 children who died while attending a residential school—but not necessarily at the school itself—are listed in a Memorial Register. It is unclear whether the NCTR believes that the unnamed children said to be buried in GPR-located graves are part of this number. They should not even be implicitly included because they are undocumented and unidentified.

Elementary logic supports this assertion: how can the turned subsoil, the only sign of burials detected by GPR, be called “the remains of missing children” when there are no proven human remains. And unnamed and unknown children cannot be called missing if they are known or believed to be dead.

The only three cemetery excavations already undertaken—the Shubenacadie IRS in Nova Scotia, the Battleford Industrial School in Saskatchewan, and the Camsell Hospital site in Alberta—have either produced negative results, confirmed that the bodies found were properly documented and buried IRS students, or predated the IRS system.

To address the link between the putative grave sites and Memorial Register names requires the transfer of attention from official unknowns to the growing body of unofficial but thoroughly documented evidence gathered since June 2021. None of this contrarian information supports the indigenous, legacy media, or political narratives.

Independently collected data for the Kamloops list of missing students posted on my website prove that 49 of the 51 “missing” Kamloops students were buried on their home reserves in named cemeteries.

All these data, along with information from many other reserves in British Columbia and elsewhere, were communicated months ago to the relevant parties: the media, provincial and federal politicians, indigenous leaders, and academics focusing on indigenous studies. Only a couple have bothered to even acknowledge receipt of this critical material.

So, who or what is buried in the Kamloops IRS apple orchard?

“Who” could be people who died before the school opened in 1890 because there are thousands of old abandoned graves and cemeteries scattered all over B.C. It is conceivable that some of these pre-1890 corpses may have been murder victims, but there is not a single authenticated case of a homicide at any IRS during their entire history. Not one.

As for the accusation that murdered children were buried in the apple orchard in the dead of night, elementary logic—as opposed to indigenous folktales—says that this is inconceivable. The school is not in some remote part of the province where nefarious deeds could easily take place. Rather, it is just across the river from the city of Kamloops. How could 215 children have been secretly buried with the whole of Kamloops and the entire Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc band turning a blind eye?

“What” is undoubtedly the likely determiner. It suggests that the remains of dead animals, decaying tree stumps neatly spaced in rows cemetery-fashion, and buried debris from construction projects are what was revealed by the GPR probe.

There is other indirect but critical evidence as well. No named indigenous relatives on the Kamloops reserve are frantically looking for named but missing IRS children. This is because admittance to the school demanded signed applications. Students were also minutely followed in quarterly reports from entry to exit as required for the school to receive its operating funds from Ottawa.

The dominance of traditional indigenous spirituality allowed a former Kamloops IRS student to recently claim that he wanted the alleged burial site left undisturbed. Exhumation would only prove what has already been established by GPR, he said. “The remains are there. What more proof do they want?”

Despite the student’s stand on this issue, thousands more children could easily be found in their final bureaucratically buried resting place: carefully preserved school, church, and government records. This would only happen if the relevant parties—the NCTR, indigenous activists, band leaders, curious journalists, impartial scholars, and family members—showed any interest in doing so.

So far, these parties prefer to support fruitless GPR studies that have not turned up a single “missing” body.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.