Has the media narrative about the graves found near former residential schools gotten away from the facts? You be the judge.
It’s been six weeks since the Chief of the Tk’emlups band in Kamloops, B.C. announced that 215 unmarked graves were found using ground-penetrating radar on the grounds of a former residential school. On May 27, the band said that a preliminary report would be released in mid-June.
It’s now mid-July, and no report has been released. Multiple emails from the Sun asking for the report have been ignored.
On June 24, another discovery was announced — this time in Saskatchewan, where Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme announced an even bigger finding: 751 unmarked graves.
Media reports were quick to characterize the graves as belonging to children who attended the nearby Marieval Indian Residential School. But according to a band councillor, that’s not necessarily the case.
“It appears that not all of the graves contain children’s bodies,” Jon Z. Lerat told the Globe and Mail, noting that this was also the burial site used by the rural municipality.
“We did have a family of non-Indigenous people show up today and notified us that some of those unmarked graves had their families in them — their loved ones,” Lerat said. Delorme added that oral stories said the graves belong to “both children and adults” as well as “people who attended the church or were from nearby towns.”
Unlike the Tk’emlups band — who claims the unmarked graves were discovered on the grounds of the former residential school — the unmarked graves at Cowesses are in an existing cemetery. Delorme noted that the graves were once marked, but that the markings were removed at some point.
Interestingly, the same band was in the news two years ago touting its relationship with the local Catholic Church — after the church donated $70,000 to the Cowessess Band for the purpose of helping to “identify unmarked graves, and add fences and trees in the Cowessess Cemetery.”
“This is true truth and reconciliation,” said Chief Delorme in 2019, “this is showing our kids that we can overcome and move forward.”
The 2019 news reports were more cautious about asserting that these graves belonged to children. This is how it was described in the local Postmedia paper, the Regina Leader-Post:
“Because many graves are unmarked, it’s difficult to tell if any children from Marieval were buried there, but the Archdiocese said it’s likely because the school was in operation for so long and it was the community’s only burial site.”
Emails and phone calls to the Cowessess Band went unreturned. It is unclear whether the 751 unmarked graves announced in June 2021 are the same as the graves discussed in the media in June 2019. It is also unclear how the Band spent the $70,000 donated by the church to upgrade the cemetery.
Next, on June 30, 2021, a third band, the Lower Kootenay Band near Cranbrook, B.C., announced its own finding of 182 unmarked graves.
Once again, the media emphasized a connection with the St. Eugene Mission Residential School — again implying these graves belong to children.
Like the Cowessess cemetery graves, the Lower Kootenay unmarked graves are within an existing cemetery — and again the cemetery was used by the broader community.
Perhaps this is why former chief Sophie Pierre told Global News: “there’s no discovery, we knew it was there, it’s a graveyard.”
“The fact there are graves inside a graveyard shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.”
Pierre declined an interview with the Sun.
The history of this cemetery is complex. Records show it was established in 1865 — 50 years before the residential school opened. In 1874, the cemetery began servicing the only local hospital in the Cranbrook region.
The Lower Kootenay Band was clear about these points in their original news release, noting that the graves were originally marked.
“Graves were traditionally marked with wooden crosses and this practice continues to this day in many Indigenous communities across Canada. Wooden crosses can deteriorate over time due to erosion or fire which can result in an unmarked grave.”
“These factors, among others, make it extremely difficult to establish whether or not these unmarked graves contain the remains of children who attended the St. Eugene Residential School.”
While the media and agenda-driven activists characterize these findings as proof of genocide at Canada’s residential schools, the facts seem to show something far less ominous.
Instead, we see uncared for graves (that were previously marked) on the grounds of existing community cemeteries (servicing a broad range of society) under the care of First Nations bands — a lot less sensational, but a lot more accurate.