What do we know two years after the alleged ‘discovery’ of ‘the remains of 215 children’?
By Nina Green
TWO YEARS AFTER the claim rocked the world that “the remains of 215 children” had been found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, we know much more than we did at the time.
Probably the most important thing we now know about Kamloops is that 2,000 linear feet of trenches about 3 feet deep lined with clay tiles and running east-west were dug in 1924 as a septic field to dispose of the school’s sewage. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) cannot distinguish between a trench lined with clay tiles and a putative child’s grave. The GPR profile is very similar.
Unfortunately Dr. Sarah Beaulieu, Assistant Professor of Social, Cultural & Media Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, didn’t know about the 1924 septic field when she did her GPR work at the former residential school as she hadn’t done the necessary archival research beforehand. She thus mistook the old septic field trenches for shallow children’s graves, and the fact that they ran east-west for proof that they were Christian burials.
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Nor did Dr. Beaulieu know that from 1991 to 2005 Dr. George Nicholas developed and directed Simon Fraser University's Indigenous Archaeology Program on the Kamloops Indian Reserve in conjunction with the Kamloops Band. As a result, after initially claiming to the Kamloops Band in late May that she had found 215 children’s graves, Dr. Beaulieu had to revise that number down to 200 in her public presentation on July 15 because some of her GPR “hits” were actually the shovel test pits which had been dug by Dr. Nicholas during his archaeological work near the former residential school.
It also appears Dr. Beaulieu did not know that the Kamloops Band has a large and very old community cemetery on the other side of the Reserve at the historic St Joseph’s Church. There would thus never have been a cemetery at the residential school. Band members are still buried in that old cemetery at St Joseph’s Church to this day.
Dr. Beaulieu apparently also did not know that the alleged juvenile tooth which Dr. Nicholas found during his earlier archaeological work had turned out, on analysis, to be non-human, or that the alleged juvenile rib bone ostensibly picked up by a tourist on the site years earlier had never been analyzed, and had apparently disappeared. At her 15 July 2021 presentation, Dr. Beaulieu mentioned the juvenile tooth and rib bone as proof that she had found children’s graves, and unfortunately she has never publicly retracted that error.
Dr. Beaulieu and the Kamloops Band have also never released her detailed written report of the GPR work, which of course raises a lot of questions in and of itself, as does the fact that her report was reviewed by 5 archaeologists who have remained anonymous to this day. Who were they? Why the secrecy? The lack of transparency about Dr. Beaulieu’s report and the archaeologists who reviewed it is a major concern. As well, Chief Casimir has never answered reporters’ questions other than in choreographed settings, and her video conferences after the initial press release were carefully controlled events in which only selected journalists were allowed to ask questions on prescribed topics.
Another important thing to know about Kamloops is that shortly after Dr. Beaulieu had communicated the results of her GPR work to the Kamloops Band on the May long weekend, James Peters of CFJC Today picked up the telephone and was told he would be given a “scoop” in which he would have a brief window to put the story out before the Band’s press release went public. Peters tweeted at 4:01 PM on 27 May 2021 linking to a news story he had posted two minutes earlier (it was time-stamped May 27, 2021 | 3:59 PM). The news story was headlined “Tk’emlups confirms bodies of 215 children buried at former Kamloops Indian Residential School site.” Peters apparently did not fact-check the story, which contained a glaring error. It claimed “the remains of 215 children” had been found, which of course was completely false, as no remains have been found to date. GPR cannot detect human remains. It can only detect soil disturbances. As a result of Peters’ tweet of the story leaked to him by the Kamloops Band, the false claim that a “mass grave” of 215 children had been discovered at the former residential school swept around the world.
It’s also highly relevant that the Kamloops Band built its Heritage Park right on top of what it now claims are the graves of 215 anonymous children. The Band says its Knowledge Keepers always knew about those graves. That, of course, immediately gives rise to the question: If you always knew about them, why did you build a tourist site on top of them, where the public would trample on them daily? The names of the Knowledge Keepers who led the GPR work have also never been released, adding to the lack of transparency which has characterized every aspect of the Kamloops story.
When the RCMP opened an investigation and questioned Dr. Beaulieu, Murray Sinclair, former head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, told a 3 June 2021 meeting of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs that he had gotten a call “early this morning” about the RCMP’s questioning of Dr. Beaulieu. Sinclair accused the RCMP of being “heavy-handed” and told the Committee that Dr. Beaulieu was “quite scared.” The RCMP immediately stopped investigating, and there has been no further investigation by the RCMP to this day.
In short, there is nothing to the Kamloops story so far. No proof of anything has ever been offered to date.
That said, a new and unexpected development occurred with the release on June 16 of an interim report by Kimberly Murray, appointed by Order in Council last June as special adviser to David Lametti. In her report, Murray stated as a fact that “Denialists entered the [Kamloops] site without permission. Some came in the middle of the night, carrying shovels; they said they wanted to see for themselves’ if children are buried there.” The Kamloops RCMP, which has a detachment on the Reserve a short distance from the former residential school, has no knowledge of these incidents. An RCMP spokesperson stated on June 21 that, “At this time, there is no indication that these events have been reported to the Tk’emlúps Rural RCMP Detachment.”
In a National Post article on June 22, journalist Terry Glavin commented on the RCMP response to Kimberly Murray’s claim that unnamed persons arrived at the former residential school in the night with shovels, announcing their intention to see for themselves if children were buried there:
There was no report of this to the RCMP. We are not invited to know when this happened or to whom these interlopers explained their wicked intentions or who they might have been, exactly. We are simply expected to believe it in the same way Murray’s report asks us to believe the Tk’emlups’ community initially intended to simply fence off the old apple orchard where a ground-penetrating radar survey detected anomalies that were presumed to be graves, so that certain former residential school students, “the ones that buried the children” in the first place, could come and pay their respects.
What? There are people still alive who were among the students in those lurid stories about children being woken up in the middle of the night to bury their classmates? Who are these people? Can we speak to them? Have they spoken to the police?
The statement in Kimberly Murray’s report to which Terry Glavin makes reference is framed as a first-person account by someone involved in the steps taken immediately after the story had been leaked to the media, creating an international furore:
We had no idea when we started … that this was going to happen. The only thing we planned was to put up a fence so people wouldn’t be walking over the children. We did not intend that it become an international conversation. Survivors wanted to come and pay respects because they were the ones that buried the children.
Kimberly Murray does not tell us who made the astonishing statement that there are Survivors still living who had buried the children.
Canadians need to know who made that statement, and as Terry Glavin has pointed out, the living Survivors who buried the children need to come forward and provide information as to the dates and circumstances of the burials in which they participated.
On the same page of her report, Murray makes another astonishing assertion:
The news became public through a leak to the media. There was no communications plan yet in place.
A leak to the media caught the Kamloops Band off-guard because the Band had no communication plan yet in place?
This obviously does not square with the fact that James Peters’ story was based on the Kamloops Band’s press release of May 27, nor that the contact named in the press release was a media consultant, Racelle Kooy.
Racelle Kooy appears to have been involved from the outset. Could she have been the caller who gave James Peters his “scoop” of May 27? She moderated Chief Rosanne Casimir’s CPAC video conference the following day, May 28, in which a small, carefully selected group of journalists participated, none from major media outlets. Ms Kooy also unexpectedly shut down the planned live-streaming by APTN News of Chief Casimir’s June 4 Zoom press conference, the video version of which has never to this day been made publicly available. Ms Kooy also moderated the 2 hour and 20 minute media event in Kamloops on July 15 at which Dr. Beaulieu appeared in public for the first time to present her GPR findings, more than a month and a half after the initial announcement.
Kimberly Murray’s assertions in her report to David Lametti are thus highly misleading.
Murray intimates that some unknown entity “leaked” the Kamloops “discovery” to the media without the Kamloops Band’s knowledge or consent, whereas it was the Band itself which gave James Peters his “scoop” and the press release on which he based his story, and it was the Kamloops Band which then sent the press release to the media at large. Murray also asserts that there was no communications plan in place when the evidence of the Kamloops Band’s own press release indicates that Racelle Kooy had been hired as a media consultant by May 27 at the latest, the same day James Peters tweeted out his “scoop.”
David Lametti needs to independently verify the assertions in Kimberly Murray’s report, many of which appear to be untrue. As Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Lametti should not be permitting his special adviser to publish, in a report addressed to him, anonymous and unverified statements which are clearly contradicted by the available facts.
And as Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Mr. Lametti needs to direct the RCMP to investigate the serious crimes Kimberly Murray alleges took place in Kamloops when she quotes in her report — as a fact, and without qualification — an unnamed source who told her there are Survivors living today who allegedly buried children in the apple orchard at the Kamloops residential school.