Warning: This story contains disturbing details.
After a year of mourning following the discovery of 215 suspected unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, a new phase begins in Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation’s journey to bring missing children home.
Kukpi7 or Chief Rosanne Casimir said the old apple orchard where evidence of graves was found by ground-penetrating radar last May may soon be followed by archaeological excavations and excavations.
“This is something that has not happened in history here in Canada,” she said at a news conference on Wednesday. “There is no set of guidelines, no checklist.”
To dig or not to dig has been one of the most frightening questions surrounding the issue of unmarked graves in residential schools. No consensus has been reached among survivors, with some viewing excavation as a procedure that can help victims to rest properly, while others wish they were left unharmed. Go.
For suggestions that the site should be treated as a crime scene, the RCMP says they opened a file on the matter, but no investigation is underway.
“We know that when we start doing some archeology work, we know that, one, when we do it will be about communication,” Casimir said.
“It’s going to be about respect and honor and dignity. It’s about connecting anyone we can to their home communities.”
Casimir pledged to keep members of the nation informed of progress and findings at the site.
He described the nation’s vision for the site as an ongoing process of “proclamation for memorialization”, which would involve finding evidence of the remains and linking them to domestic communities.
“We are using science to support each step as we move forward,” she said.
“We have a technical task force put together that includes various professors as well as technical archaeologists and we are also continuing to work with a ground-penetrating radar specialist.”
The nation announced Thursday that ground penetration radar will be used again this week to search another part of the grounds surrounding the former residential school.
Kamloops School survivor Gary Gottfriedson said he struggled with whether the site should be excavated or left alone, but he was unable to find evidence to console himself, any buried children, and the nation. leans towards.
“If you can imagine munching on your whole soul for the rest of your life, and then, in the end, there’s peace of mind,” he said. “It’s like that for me. It’s one way that part of that ugly history can be put to rest.”
Gottfriedson, 69, said he attended Kamloops Residential School from kindergarten to grade 3 between 1959 and 1963, where he witnessed abuse, but was largely protected by his older brothers at school.
The internationally known poet said that his eight other siblings, his mother and 30 aunts, uncles and cousins attended the school from his famous Sekwepem Nation ranching and rodeo-riding family.
“All of us who were in that residential school already knew that they [bodies] There were,” said Gottfriedson, who provides counseling and curriculum advice on Sekwepemak Nation protocol and cultural practices to Thompson River University in Kamloops.
“Now, it’s like saying, ‘Do you believe us?’ Taking out those bodies and things like that is a way of saying, ‘Now, if they put your 215 relatives in a mass grave like this, tell me how you’re going to get through this.’
Percy Casper, a fellow at Kamloops school, said he wanted the burial site to be left undisturbed. He said the excavation would only prove what has already been established by ground penetrating radar.
“The remains are there,” he said. “What more proof do they need?”
Casper, 73, who spent 10 years at Kamloops School, said he would instead prefer to see the former school building that currently houses the nation’s offices.
“I want that thing to be that bad,” said Casper, who came from the Cash Creek area Bonaparte Indian Band.
Anthropologist in the School of Communication and Culture at the Royal Roads University in Victoria, Prof. Geoff Byrd said he considers the evidence from already unmarked graves to be “infallible”.
But the excavation may represent part of a powerful process of recognition and reconciliation for Tk’emlups te Secwepemc.
“It is the community and the family that ultimately decide whether they want to engage in this act of excavation,” said Bird, an expert in cultural memory and war heritage. France.
“If the idea is to eventually remember the people who are buried there, that’s really a worthy goal,” he said. “To spend this time investigating in any way, shape or form is essentially an act of memorization.”
Casimir said the RCMP and the BC Coroner’s Service were contacted shortly after the discovery last May, but did not elaborate on contacts with police.
The e-division of the RCMP said in a statement that it is not currently looking at the site.
“While we did open an investigative file, we are not actively investigating,” Staff Sergeant Janelle Shohet said in a statement.
“The file was opened so that we can assist when we need it. We respect that Tk’emlups te Secwepemc remains as the lead officer at this time, and that the RCMP will continue to support “
Casimir said a one-day cultural festival has been scheduled at Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Pow Wow Arbor on Monday to mark the anniversary of the findings.
She said searches on the site “shocked me to the core.”
Hundreds more suspected graves linked to residential schools across Canada will be followed by a year of reckoning the legacy of residential schools for Indigenous children, after hundreds more are unearthed.
A 4,000-page report by the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation in 2015 details the emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children in schools and harsh abuse, including at least 4,100 deaths in institutions.
The report cites records of the deaths of at least 51 children at Kamloops School between 1914 and 1963. In 1918 health officials believed that children in school were not being fed enough, leading to malnutrition, the report said.
Kamloops Residential School operated between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took over operations from the Catholic Church and operated as a day school until its closure in 1978.
Support is available for those affected by the impact of residential school and those affected by the latest reports.
A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been established to provide support for residential school survivors and other affected. People can access emotional and distress 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 the staff and operation of a residential school? Email your suggestions to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: [email protected]