Aug. 12, 2021

Truth has fallen victim to the big white lie

Truth has fallen victim to political agendas. It’s not something that sneaked up on us gradually, it’s been going on for some time.

The twisted reports of unmarked graves from the Indian Residential school era are a classic example. Our media have been misreporting with almost giddy tones about what they claim happened.

I followed up on one misleading report of “mass graves” at the former school near Kamloops. I mentioned to the journalist that there were no mass graves, and that the story is nothing new, it’s been known for years. The response I got from a supposedly professional journalist was that stating it that way emphasizes the issue. Truth can be so boring, spice it up. 

Some media did follow up an gather some facts. CTV Regina had an article by Irene Andreas, COWESSES first nation, entitled “Imagine the reserve itself telling y’all to calm down and stop making assumptions”.

“Dear Folks, our leaders today are addicted to media sensationalism. I can see how the Marieval graveyard news is causing a lot of heartbreak and emotional breakdowns.

Please listen to your elderly folks as well.

We respected the Church, we respected to dead. We buried our dead with a proper funeral. Then we allowed them to Rest In Peace.

Please be aware that this cemetery is a community cemetery with all races and ages of people buried there.

The headstones were removed in 1966-1967, as a first step in refurbishing as the old markers were damaged by weather, age or animals.

The second step of replacing the old and broken headstones wasn’t completed. Parishioners had moved away or had passed on or were simply unable to put up a marker for various reasons.

Please know that it is the obligation of the family to put a marker there for their deceased. This is not the responsibility of the government or the church.

There is no “discovery” of graves. All your elders have knowledge of every grave.

The Band office has records from the Bishop’s office, the Church board and from Cemetery workers who were in charge of digging graves and burials.

The Band office received a list of over 750 registered burials from the Bishop’s office.

Information is being put out there that doesn’t recognize these facts.

So please, people, do not make up stories about residential school children being put in unmarked graves. No such thing ever happened.”

True North website reported that mainstream media like the Toronto Star referred to the burial sites as “mass graves” despite the discovery still undergoing a preliminary investigation. 

Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir told reporters that the remains claimed to have been discovered at a former residential school near Kamloops were “not a mass grave” according to preliminary findings. 

“This is not a mass grave. These are preliminary findings. We will be sharing the written report in the middle of the month,” she said.  (Note to media – wait for the report).

Additionally, Casimir said she supports keeping the residential school buildings standing as a way to learn from the ugly truths contained in Canadian history. Many activists are calling for historical sites and statues to be renamed or removed over historically racist ties.

“We know that some residential schools are torn down, we want ours to remain to stand, it is a huge piece of history that we do not want to be forgotten but that can be learned from — the history of the ugly truths . . . for all the future generations,” she said. 

Sophie Pierre, former chief of the St Mary’s Indian Band and a survivor of the school itself, told Global News that while the news of the unmarked graves had a painful impact on her and surrounding communities, they had always known the graves were there.

“There’s no discovery, we knew it was there, it’s a graveyard,” Pierre said. “The fact there are graves inside a graveyard shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.”

According to Pierre, wooden crosses that originally marked the gravesites had been burned or deteriorated over the years.  Using a wooden marker at a gravesite remains a practice that continues to this day in many Indigenous communities across Canada.

Radar technology was brought in by the community in an effort to identify those buried in the cemetery and to re-mark the gravesite.

“I don’t know where my grandparents are lying in there,” Pierre said. “All of those names, we will put markers so that we know there’s a gravesite here and so we won’t disturb it.”

The unmarked graves were first reported by the Lower Kootenay Band, a sister band, which said some of the remains were buried in shallow graves only three and four feet deep.

The band believes the remains are from the member bands of the Ktunaxa Nation, neighbouring First Nations communities and the community of ʔaq̓am.

The cemetery sits about 150 meters from the former residential school, which was in operation between 1912 and 1970. It is now a luxurious golf resort owned by five local area bands.

At the time it was mandated by law that all Indigenous children living in the area between the ages of seven and 15 were to attend the school.

According to the Lower Kootenay Band, many of the children “received cruel and sometimes fatal treatment.”

Pierre said while there is a possibility there are some children who attended the school were buried in the cemetery, more work is required to confirm those details.

“There could very well be, and in good likelihood, some children that were in the residential school that died here because of TB or other diseases, and were buried there,” Pierre said. “But it’s a graveyard.”

Hundreds of unmarked graves, many believed to be children, have been found near residential school sites across the country recently, including in Kamloops, B.C., and the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.

Pierre acknowledged uncovering those graves is important work, and sheds light on the traumatic history and reality for Indigenous peoples across Canada.

However, she said the findings at the cemetery near Cranbrook isn’t the same as the other findings at other residential schools throughout the country.