The commission that has spent five years examining one of the darkest chapters in Canada’s history is winding up its work with a key question left unanswered – exactly how many aboriginal children died in residential schools? Justice Murray Sinclair, who heads the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says the federal government stopped recording the deaths around 1920 after the chief medical officer at Indian Affairs suggested children were dying at an alarming rate. Sinclair has guessed up to 6,000 children may have died at the schools but it’s impossible to say with certainty. Sinclair has guessed up to 6,000 children may have died at the schools but it’s impossible to say with certainty.
Global News, May 31, 2015
April 17, 2020: CBC – In 1907, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, chief medical officer at Indian Affairs, submitted a report critical of the health conditions in residential schools. He blamed the federal government for negligence that led to the high death rates. Bryce’s recommendations were dismissed by Duncan Campbell Scott, then head of Indian Affairs. Scott eventually terminated Bryce’s funding for research…and eventually they pushed him out of the public service. But even then, he wasn’t silent,” said Cindy Blackstock. In 1922, Bryce wrote a book, The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal for Justice to the Indians of Canada. In his book, Bryce outlined the government’s role in establishing and maintaining conditions that led to the high number of student deaths in residential schools, and the government’s deliberate decision to not take action. The number of residential schools continued to increase in the following years.
May 27, 2021 – Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir confirms an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented by the Kamloops Indian Residential School…the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. “We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” stated Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir. “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.”
This work was undertaken by the C7élksten̓ s re Secwépemc ne Ck̓ úl̓ tens ell ne Xqwelténs (Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Language and Culture Department) with ceremonial Knowledge Keepers who ensured that the work was conducted respectfully in light of the serious nature of the investigation with cultural protocols being upheld.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is following the necessary steps regarding these preliminary findings. This includes:
- Engaging with the coroner
- Reaching out to the home communities who had children who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School
- Taking measures to ensure that the locations of the remains are protected
- The Secwépemc Museum Archivist is working with the Royal British Columbia Museum amongst others, to seek out any existing records of these deaths.
A lot has happened since May 27. For starters, 5 other sites have discovered an additional 1,232 unmarked graves.
|Indian Residential School||Province||Discovery||# of graves||Official||First Nation|
|Kamloops IRS||BC||May 27, 2021||215||51||Tk’emlups te Secwépemc FN|
|Muscowequan IRS||Sask.||June 1, 2021||35||–||Muscowequan FN|
|Brandon IRS||Man.||June 10, 2021||104||78||Sioux Valley Dakota FN|
|Marieval IRS||Sask.||June 25, 2021||751||8||Cowessess FN|
|St. Eugene’s IRS||BC||June 30, 2021||182||19||Ktunaxa Nation|
|Kuper Island IRS||BC||July 13, 2021||160+||120||Penelakut FN|
August 11, 2021: Toronto Star – The federal government is committing $321M in new funding for Indigenous communities and appointing a special interlocutor to propose law and policy changes to better responds to the findings of unmarked graves at former residential school sites:
- $83M added to the existing $27M program to fund searches of burial sites and commemorate the children who died at residential schools
- $107M for programs to support healing from intergenerational trauma
- $100M over two years to help Indigenous communities manage residential school buildings
- $20M to build a national monument in Ottawa to honour the survivors and all the children who were lost.
June 1, 2021: Toronto Star – The Star reached out to Reconciliation Canada, The Native Women’s Association and Brenda Wastasecoot at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Indigenous Studies to compile a list of actions the public can take to urge the government to go beyond acknowledgement, thoughts and prayers:
- Understand the Truth and Reconciliations; Calls to Actions
- Ask for immediate reinstatement of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation
- Sigh the petition for a National Day of Mourning
- Encourage survivors to participate in a lawsuit from the federal Indian Day School Class Action
- Read the Taimainnut basic counselling booklet from the Pauktuuitit Inuit Women of Canada
- Donate to Indian residential school survivors at the Indian Residential School Survivors Society
Calls to Action
|Call to Action # 71||Chief coroners & vital stats agencies to provide records of deaths|
|Call to Action # 72||Develop a National Residential School Student Death Register|
|Call to Action # 73||Establish an online registry of residential school cemeteries|
|Call to Action # 74||Informing families of child’s burial location and reburial|
|Call to Action # 75||Identify, protect and commemorate residential school cemeteries|
|Call to Action # 76||Principles for those involved in residential school cemeteries|
Current Problems with Missing Children and Burial Information
Appeal to International Criminal Court
July 22, 2021: Nunantsiaq News: Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and her fellow NDP MP Charlie Angus held a press conference on Parliament Hill Thursday to ask federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti to reach out to the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation into a system they said “represents a crime against humanity.” “We need a full and independent investigation that has the power to shine a light on every facet of this national crime, and has the power to bring perpetrators to justice,” Qaqqaq said.
Qaqqaq said an investigation should extend beyond just residential schools to examine any institution that Indigenous people were forced to attend, providing the example of southern sanatoriums Inuit were sent to between the 1940s and 1960s to recover from tuberculosis. “There are possibly hundreds, if not thousands, of Inuit [buried] outside of sanatoriums across the country,” she said.
Discovery of 160+ unmarked graves at former Kuper IRS on Penelakut Island
July 13, 2021: Toronto Star – Penelakut Tribe Chief Joan Brown “has told surrounding First Nations that it has found the unmarked graves of 160 or more people on the grounds of the former residential school”. Kuper Island School on Penelakut Island was operated by the Catholic Church until 1969.
Outbreaks of deadly disease were a persistent issue at the school: typhoid, influenza and smallpox outbreaks… Students also did not receive enough to eat, according to school inspectors… A federal government employees wrote that Indigenous peoples “were inclined to boycott this school on account of so many deaths.”
Sexual abuse and suicides by students have also been recorded there…In 1939, an attempted escape drew attention to abuse. Six boys escaped by canoe and two, who were interviewed by police officers, said they fled because of “unnatural acts” one of the priests had tried with them…(The alleged perpetrators of the abuse having been sent away from B.C. before the investigation concluded.)
Archaeological research there began in 2014 as part of the TRC’s work on missing children. After the TRC reports were completed, a team at the University of British Columbia continued the work of collecting records, interviewing people who live in the village and searching the grounds of the former school using ground-penetrating radar.
Indigenous children from up and down the B.C. coast were sent there, and its remote locations earned it the nickname of “Canada’s Alcatraz”. A community march with neighbouring communities will take place on August 2.
Discovery of 182 unmarked graves near the firmer St. Eugene Mission School
June 30, 2021: Toronto Star – Chief Jason Louie of The Lower Kootenay Band announced that they had discovered “182 sets of human remains in unmarked graves…flagged near the location of a former residential school – St. Eugene Mission School – in Cranbrook, B.C…from the member bands of Ktunaxa nation, and neighbouring First Nation communities”. The former school, which was operated from 1912 to the 70s by the Roman Catholic Church is now St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino after the school was handed back to the five bands after the school closed.
The community of Aq’am conducted a search of the schoolgrounds using ground-penetrating radar in 2020 and they are still in the early stages of interpreting the reports from those searches. Aq’am released its own statement Wednesday acknowledging that it had conducted the search in 2020 in what is now the aq’am community cemetery — but stressed that it is difficult for them to determine whether this was a site where residential schoolchildren were buried.
“The community of ʔaq̓ am remains steadfast in its responsibility as caretakers of the ʔaq̓ am Cemetery and to those who eternally rest within. Further ground penetrating radar work will be done on the site.”
Discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the site if the former Marievale Indian Residential School
Sept. 30, 2021: Toronto Star – Chief Cadmus Delorme said the First Nation has since identified about 300 unmarked graves. Not all were believed to belong to children. Catholic Church parishioners are thought to have been buried there, as well as members of neighbouring communities.
The First Nation worked with historical records from the Roman Catholic Church, the RCMP and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to put names to the unmarked graves. They also relied on people’s oral stories.
June 25, 2021: Toronto Star – Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme announced the discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marievale Indian Residential School in southeastern Saskatchewan “which operated from 1898 until 1997, and was run by the Catholic Church for most of its history”.
“We will find more bodies and we will not stop until we find all of our children,” he said. “We will do a search of every Indian residential school site and we won’t stop there. We will also search all of the sanatoriums, Indian hospitals, and all of the sites where our people were taken and abused, tortured, neglected and murdered. We will tell the stories of our children, of our people who died, who were killed by the state and the churches and we won’t stop until we locate all of them….” Chief Bobby Cameron, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
The grave site in what is now Cowessess First Nation was overseen by the Catholic Church from 1886 — 12 years before Marieval opened — until the 1970s, Delorme said. There had been grave markings at some point, but the church removed them in the 1960s, he said.
Regina Archbishop Don Bolen was not available for an interview Thursday, but in an open letter to Delorme posted to the Archdiocese’s website, Bolen reiterated a previous apology “for the failures and sins of Church leaders and staff in the past towards the people of Cowessess.” “I know that apologies seem a very small step as the weight of past suffering comes into greater light,” he writes, “but I extend that apology again, and pledge to do what we can to turn that apology into meaningful concrete acts, including assisting in accessing information that will help to provide names and information about those buried in unmarked graves and to stand by you in whatever way you request.”
Discovery of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenus children at the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School
May 28, 2021: Toronto Star – The bodies of 215 Indigenous children were discovered in unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School located in the territory of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. The Truth and Reconciliation records the death of 51 children dying at the Kamloops Residential School between 1914 and 1963. The commission noted in its 2015 report that officials in 1918 believed children at the school were not being adequately fed, leading to malnutrition. Ry Moran, founding director of the Nations Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba …said as many as 400 unmarked burial locations are believed to exist across the country, but only about 100 have been identified.
Indigenous Watchdog Observation:
Three of the Six Calls to Action of “Missing Children and Burial Information” Calls to Action have not even started – six years after the Summary Report of the TRC was first released on June 2, 2015. All three are specifically directed at what the discovery at the former Kelowna Residential School address:
- Identify child’s burial location and notify families for reburial ceremonies
- identify, document, maintain, commemorate and protect residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried
- All Policies and protocols relating to residential school cemeteries are Indigenous led
In Budget 2019, the federal government allocated $33.8M specifically for Calls to Action # 72 “to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register” and Call to Action # 73 to “establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children”. Of that amount $6.8M was for the Student Death registry and the online registry of residential school cemeteries. (CTV News). The balance was left unallocated until June 2, 2021 when $27M was suddenly made available to “assist Indigenous communities in locating and memorializing children who died at residential schools”.Six years to the day that those Calls to Action were first issued.
June 1, 2021: Toronto Star – In 2009 – when Conservatives were in power – there had been a request for $1.5 million, which would have been used to help locate gravesites, among other things.
The request was denied.
The landmark Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on the legacy of the residential school system in Canada devoted an entire section to missing children and unmarked burial sites and made six related calls to action.
June 2, 2021: National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) and the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) at UBC – NCTR and IRSHDC re calling on the federal government to work in collaboration with residential school Survivors and Indigenous governments to establish a national framework for investigation and protection of burial sites, consistent with the rights, laws, jurisdiction and protocols of the affected Nations.
The NCTR and IRSHDC emphasize that all potential residential school burial sites must be investigated and documented. Until such investigations can take place, these sites must be protected from erosion, destruction, manipulation or disturbance.
Hiding, damaging, interfering with or destroying the graves of residential school children must be recognized as a crime and prosecuted as such. In addition, national standards must be put in place concerning use of investigative technologies such as ground scanning radar to respect the privacy of affected families and ensure that any evidence of crimes is not compromised. A renewed commitment to ensure the affected Nations have all records related to missing and buried children and documentation where records are absent is urgently required.
Finally, all measures to investigate and protect burial sites must be consistent with the rights of Indigenous peoples in domestic and international law, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This includes respect for the decision-making authority of Indigenous governments and the right of Indigenous peoples to control their own lands and territories. The UN Declaration specifically calls on states to work with Indigenous peoples to develop appropriate mechanisms to protect and return human remains.
June 3, 2021 – Murray Sinclair, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission “called for an independent investigation of the broader question of unmarked sites across the country and demanded it not be conducted under the auspices of the federal government.”
June 5, 2021 – Toronto Star – The federal government, so far, has refused to legally compel the Catholic Church to release all documents relating the residential school system. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate who operated the Kamloops Residential School “have yet to release any records about the Kamloops school. The Catholic order, which ran about 47% of Canada’s residential schools, says it has released some records while retaining control over others, claiming privacy or historical inaccuracies.
June 6, 2021: Toronto Star – The Missionary of Oblates of Mary Immaculate “says it will disclose all historical documents in its possession… They operated 48 schools in Canada, including the Marieval IRS and the Kamloops IRS…In the statement, the Oblates said the work is not complete because of complications with provincial and national privacy laws.
July 16, 2021: Toronto Star – Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation released a report on the preliminary findings of their search of the 215 unmarked graves:
- Revising the initial estimate to 200 “targets of interest” – probable graves
- Calling on the federal government to help identify any remains in the unmarked graves
- Demanding documents and funding from the federal government
- Demands for the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the federal government to provide all documentation of the school attendance records
- Pushing for criminal investigations
For complete details from the press conference, please see NationTalk:
Oct. 18, 2021: Globe and Mail – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was publicly reprimanded by the chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation after a ceremony in which he paid his first respects to missing children believed to be buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Ms. Casimir said the First Nation had sent two letters of invitation to Mr. Trudeau’s office in which it asked him to participate in the Sept. 30 event. The request was about him showing his “commitment to rectifying the historical wrongs of residential schools and to grieve with our residential school survivors,” she said. The First Nation has asked for funding for a healing centre, and for Canada to release records on student attendance at the Kamloops school to help with the identification of missing children.
Ongoing failure to deliver records of deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of Residential School authorities
As of 2014, as stated in “Honoring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Summary of the Final report of the TRC (July 23, 2015) in addition to the office in British Columbia, vital statistics offices in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Yukon, and Nunavut had responded to the Commission’s request for records for the National Residential School Student Death Register.
Sept. 30, 2019: CTV News – The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation revealed the names of 2,800 children who died in residential schools in a ceremony in Gatineau, Quebec. A 50-metre long blood red cloth bearing the names of each child and the schools they attended was unfurled and carried through a crowd of Indigenous children, elders and chiefs, residential school survivors and others. Ry Moran NCTR Director, says an additional 1,600 also died but remain unnamed. There were also many hundred who simply vanished, undocumented in any records so far uncovered. (Toronto Star). In total, 4,037 Indigenous children are listed in the Memorial Register:
|# of Deaths||Description|
|365||Additional names added to memorial register after additional investigation|
|1,242||Known to have passed away but whose names are not yet known|
Brandon Indian Residential School: Brandon, Manitoba
Aug. 28, 2018 – The unmarked graves of 51 children who died at the Brandon Indian Residential School are physically located on a Recreational Vehicle (RV) campsite that now owns the former school property.
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) wants the city of Brandon to protect the unmarked graves that are now part of a RV campsite. “History hasn’t been properly acknowledged when it comes to the Brandon Indian Residential School,” explained Grand Chief Dumas. “We need to remember these children by ensuring that each one of them has a marked grave.”
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs encourages the City of Brandon and the current owners of the Turtle Crossing RV Park to move forward on Call to Action # 75 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada