Like all Canadians, the principals and staff at Archaeological Research Associates Ltd. (ARA Ltd.) were devastated by news of the discovery of child burials at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Our hearts go out to the Indigenous families and communities across Canada whose children suffered, and sometimes died, under the brutality of the Indian Residential School system. It is a dark and ongoing chapter of Canadian history which the country must take solid steps to atone for. There can be no Reconciliation without first coming to grips with the truth of these events.
With that in mind, it is worth reminding Canadians that more such discoveries are almost certain to follow. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has identified the names of, or information about, more than 4100 children who died of disease or accident while attending a residential school. The lack of adequate records relating to these deaths is also a matter of national shame. Specifically:
• in 32% of cases, death records did not record the student’s name
• in 23% of cases, the gender of the student who died was not recorded
• in 49% of cases, the cause of death was not given
This failure to provide basic record keeping was part of the general pattern of disrespect for Indigenous peoples that was exhibited by the Crown and the churches who jointly ran the residential schools. In Volume 4 of its final report to the nation, entitled Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials, the TRC noted that most of the cemeteries associated with these schools are “abandoned, disused, and vulnerable to accidental disturbance.”
It seems almost inconceivable that burial grounds associated with residential schools continue to languish without proper care and commemoration. Despite government promises to the contrary, the TRC’s Calls to Action (Nos. 71-76) regarding the identification, documentation, restoration, protection, and commemoration of residential school burial sites remain unfulfilled. Until adequate resources are dedicated to accomplishing these goals, we cannot accept that Canadian governments are serious about Reconciliation.