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No human remains found at Canadian native school 2 years after rage, burned churches and payments

In 2021, claims were made that Indigenous children who attended Indian residential schools were buried in unmarked or mass graves. That sparked protests, vandalism of churches and tens of billions in government payments to the aggrieved. Now it seems there no mass graves.

Published: September 11, 2023 4:22am

No human remains have been found from excavations at a Canadian Indian residential school two years after allegations were made that more than 200 Indigenous children were buried at the site. In the aftermath of the claims, Canada experienced a rash of burning and vandalizing of dozens of Catholic churches.

In May 2021, the British Columbia First Nation Band Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced that a radar survey had found “confirmation of the remains of 215 children” near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

The residential schools operated for around a century, beginning in the 1800s, and were funded by the Canadian government, with more than 60% operated by the Roman Catholic Church. Approximately 150,000 Indigenous children attended the schools, but there is debate over how many were forced to attend to assimilate into Canadian culture versus the children’s parents sending them there to receive an education.

Media outlets worldwide, such as The New York Times ran stories with sympathetic headlines like "Horrible History’: Mass Grave of Indigenous Children Reported in Canada." CBS News headlined its story by Anderson Cooper "Canada's unmarked graves: How residential schools carried out ‘cultural genocide’ against indigenous children.”

After the media blitz came the firestorm. The BBC reported that ten churches in Alberta alone were vandalized, and that at least two churches in British Columbia were burned to the ground.

The National Post reported that "there were protests and violence in cities and towns from one end of Canada to the other. Dozens of churches were vandalized. Several churches were razed to the ground, some of them beloved old Indian reserve churches where Indigenous communities had baptized their children and eulogized their dead going back generations."

After the claims of mass graves were announced, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had flags on federal buildings fly at half-mast for five months. Trudeau condemned the attacks on churches as “unacceptable and wrong,” but also said the anger against the government and the Catholic Church was “understandable.”

By way of further atonement, the Canadian federal government pledged $320 million  in Canadian currency ($234,320,672 USD) for programs to aid Indigenous communities to search for more burial sites. The government also paid out another $40 billion ($29 billion USD) to those who were allegedly abused at the schools.

Jacques Rouillard, a Université de Montréal history department professor emeritus, told the New York Post regarding the excavation finding no mass graves, “I don’t like to use the word hoax because it’s too strong but there are also too many falsehoods circulating about this issue with no evidence.”

“This has all been very dark for Canada,” Rouillard added. “We need more excavations so we can know the truth. Too much was said and decided upon before there was any proof.”

Other observers are less reticent about using the word "hoax." The American Conservative this week called the claims of mass graves "quite literally a piece of agitprop mythology." 

Another observer placed the blame not on First Nation leaders or activists, but instead on the way international media uncritically repeated the story and sensationalized it. The National Post's Terry Glavin said the coverage "precipitated a descent into paroxysms of shame, guilt and rage that swept across the country."

Last month, 14 suspected anomalies in the basement of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church near the Pine Creek Residential School were excavated but no human remains were found there either. There have been no other excavations at any of the other schools since 2021.

Minegoziibe Anishinabe Chief Derek Nepinak said the new excavation results take “nothing away from the difficult truths experienced by our families who attended the residential school in Pine Creek.”

“The results of our excavation under the church should not be deemed as conclusive of other ongoing searches and efforts to identify reflections from other community processes including other (ground-penetrating radar) initiatives,” Nepinak added.

Still, skepticism has run deeply in light of the discovery that there appear to be no mass graves. Daily Wire podcast host and author Matt Walsh posted last Friday about the excavation news on his X account, writing, “Leftism runs entirely on false narratives and hoaxes. That is their only weapon. Once you understand that, you will stop falling for things like this.”

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