Canada has always been known throughout the world as a peaceful and thoroughly decent country. Not anymore. Our international reputation is now in tatters.
Allegations that bodies of Indian Residential School (IRS) students have been discovered in secret graves have blackened our country’s reputation, while sparking an outpouring of remorse, contrition and self-flagellation at home. Politicians have openly wept, and anguished editorials and newspaper articles have slandered and libelled our ancestors, as well as the Churches that operated most of the schools. The Catholic Church has been savaged.
Even the Head Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has publicly declared that children died at residential schools after 1920 – with no record kept of their deaths – and the people responsible for the residential schools “didn’t care”.
According to Chairman Murray Sinclair there are thousands of these undocumented deaths. He claims that children went to residential schools, and were never seen again. These are the alleged “missing children”.
But are any of these awful allegations true?
Here is what we know so far: Tk’emlups Chief Rosanne Casimir announced that the remains of 215 children had been secretly buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
We now know that this claim is not accurate. Ground-penetrating radar had apparently detected 200 “soil disturbances” which could be graves, but just as easily be other kinds of excavations.
So far, zero evidence.
The chief gives excuses for a failure to excavate – which action would prove or disprove her shocking allegations. The chief has also spoken about people “knowing” about these burials, with children as young as six being forced to help bury their fellow students. But these “knowings” by “knowledge keepers” (one of whom is now running to be chief) turned out to be little more than urban legends or rumours – perhaps inspired by what appears to be the conspiracy claims of a defrocked United Church minister, Kevin Annett, whose outlandish stories have been circulating since the 1990s.
In fact, Annett also tells stories about children “as young as six” being forced to bury fellow students. And Annett puts the number of missing children as high as 150,000, with many buried between church walls. Another Annett story that has been circulating since the 1990s is that in 1964 Queen Elizabeth kidnapped ten children from the Kamloops school, who were never seen again.
So far, no evidence.
But additional startling allegations comes from the TRC itself. According to the Commission’s Report there are 2800 children who were enrolled in residential schools who never returned to their parents’ homes. And, says Sinclair, the number of children could be thousands more – as many as 25,000.
These are the so-called “missing children”. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) – which is the successor to the TRC – has asserted that 51 of those “missing children” came from the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. This is the allegation; these 51 children were enrolled in the school, but never returned to their homes.
Given the level of publicity the May 27 announcement has received, the Canadian public might very well conclude that these 51 might be among the 215 “buried” in the “apple orchard” described by Chief Casimir.
With these shocking allegations in mind, I consulted with a small group, composed of writers, academics and researchers, with a view to testing the “missing children” hypothesis. Was it actually possible that many thousands of children were enrolled in residential schools, and simply never returned to their homes? Could this actually happen in a country like Canada?
And please forgive a bit of scepticism here. But is it even remotely possible that thousands of parents of any race or ethnic group would simply accept the fact that their children had gone to live in a boarding school, and never returned? Would not any parent be alarmed, and demand to know where there child was? For heaven’s sakes, are Indigenous parents houseplants?
Of course not!
In fact, there is a great deal of information from the TRC Report, and elsewhere, that Indigenous parents are and were exactly like any other concerned parents. They were actively involved in matters concerning their children’s education. There are many instances of Indigenous parents withdrawing their children from residential schools when they were troubled by what they saw happening in a school.
There are also many instances of Indigenous parents demanding that residential schools be built so that their children could receive an education that was current with the times. There is absolutely no evidence of many thousands of Indigenous parents expressing dismay when their children never returned from an IRS institution. In short, Indigenous parents were just as concerned about their children’s welfare as any other parents. There is absolutely no historical record that thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Métis parents remained silent when their children were enrolled in residential schools, and were never heard of again.
In fact Indigenous parents cherish their children in the same way that all parents do. To suggest that thousands of Indigenous parents would remain silent about the unexplained loss of their children is a highly offensive indictment of all Indigenous people, and completely false. In short, the evidence that thousands of Indigenous children went to residential schools, and never returned, is zero.
Let us turn to the evidence that is obtained when proper research is conducted. I and my colleagues took the 51 names of children who were said to be “missing” at Kamloops and did some elementary research, and we very quickly found that 40 of the 51 are not missing at all. The 40 people had all died natural deaths, and their places of burial had all been properly recorded. In many cases they died on their home reserves. In some cases, two names refer to the same person. This research consisted of very basic and completely free online searches, that included death certificates and the residential school quarterly reports.
What follows is the list of the 51 children said to be “missing” by the TRC, and additionally listed by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). Simply put, the 40 children were never “missing”.
LIST OF 51 STUDENTS
- Francis Moses (1919/10/31), d. Sahhaltkum Indian Reserve (Adams Lake Band); buried there
- Adrian Reynold G George (1959/4/25), d. at KIRS; autopsy; buried Lytton Indian Cemetery
- Agnes Michou (1935/12/28), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; DIA inquiry held [NB: death certificate states name was Agnes Missoo Charlie]
- Ambrose Alexander (1947/9/27), d. train derailment near Ashcroft; buried Indian Cemetery, Seton Lake
- Annie Frank (1940/01/21), duplicate name on NCTR list; same person as Annie Lucy/Elizabeth Andrew below
- Annie Lucy Andrew (1940/01/20), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; DIA inquiry held
- Arcelle William (1943/5/19), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; DIA inquiry held; body taken by school car to Salmon River Reserve for burial
- Archie Oxime (1919/6/20), d. Kamloops Indian Reserve [NB: death certificate states date of death was 1919/06/18]
- Bobby Joseph Bell (1961/1/1), d. Enderby; buried 5 August 1961, No. 2 Indian Reserve Cemetery, Spallumcheen [NB: death certificate states date of death was 1961/8/2]
- Caroline Harris (1927/2/21) [DEATH CERTIFICATE NOT YET LOCATED]
- Christine Jacob (1962/11/12), d. in plane crash, Kamloops; buried Indian Cemetery, Fountain
- Christine Josephine Joy Joseph (1961/6/2), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; autopsy; buried Chu Chua Indian cemetery [NB: no mention in death certificate that she was a student; may have been taken from her home in Barriere to Royal Inland Hospital]
- Christine Jules (1917/2/28) [DEATH CERTIFICATE NOT YET LOCATED]
- Clarina Matthew (1936/9/16), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; DIA inquiry held
- Eileen Joseph (1964/1/25), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; buried cemetery Chu Chua
- Florence Morgan (1941/6/26), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; DIA inquiry held; remains returned to parents at Bonaparte Indian Reserve by school truck for burial
- Francis Alec (1947/9/27), d. same train derailment as Ambrose Alexander above; coroner’s inquest; buried Indian Cemetery, Fountain
- Francis Maximin (1915/1/31), d. Kamloops [NB: death certificate erroneously spells surname ‘Maxine’]
- Frederick Lecamp (1962/11/19) [NB: almost certainly same person as John Lecamp below who died on same day]
- George Michel (1916/7/1) [DEATH CERTIFICATE NOT YET LOCATED]
- George Peter (date of death unknown) [DEATH CERTIFICATE NOT YET LOCATED]
- George Purdaby (1946/1/1), d. Salmon Arm; DIA inquiry held; coroner’s inquest; buried Indian Cemetery, Salmon Arm, [NB: death certificate states date of death was 1946/7/21, i.e. during summer holidays]
- Gertrude James (1947/1/1), d. Coqualeetza Indian Hospital, Sardis; buried Bridge River Reserve cemetery [NB: death certificate states date of death was 1947/2/24]
- Gladys Chapman (1931/4/29), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; buried Spuzzum; see article on her at: https://thetyee.ca/News/2015/07/04/The-Gladys-We-Never-Knew/
- Henry Lulu (date of death not known) [NB: there is a death certificate for a Norman Henry Lulu, 2 yrs old, who died at Kamloops 1929/11/01]
- Josephine Louie (1945/9/3), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; DIA inquiry held; buried Lower Similkameen Indian Reserve
- John Lecamp (1962/11/19) [NB: almost certainly same person as Frederick Lecamp above] [DEATH CERTIFICATE NOT YET LOCATED]
- Julienne Sharon Dennis (date of death not known) [DEATH CERTIFICATE NOT YET LOCATED]
- Kathleen Michel (1937/5/2 or 3), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; DIA inquiry held [NB: death certificate and inquiry state date of death was 1937/5/3]
- Leonard Major (1947/9/27), d. same train derailment as Ambrose Alexander and Francis Alec above; buried Indian Cemetery, Pavilion Indian Reserve
- Leslie Lewis (1935/9/23), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; DIA inquiry held; autopsy
- Louise Seymour (1936/05/26), d. Kamloops Indian Reserve [NB: not included in inquiries into deaths 1935-1945, which suggests she was not registered at KIRS at the time of her death]
- Lucine Whimpin (1935/3/9) [DEATH CERTIFICATE NOT YET LOCATED]
- Marguerite Fallardeau (1900/12/10), d. Kamloops [NB: death certificate gives name as Maggie Fillardeau]
- Mary Anne Soulle (1957/12/24), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; buried Adams Lake Indian Reserve cemetery
- Mary Francois (1937/5/13), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; DIA inquiry held [NB: death certificate states name was Mary Francois Sampolio]
- Minnie Spy (1927/4/14) [DEATH CERTIFICATE NOT YET LOCATED]
- Nellie Fallardeau (1923/7/13) [DEATH CERTIFICATE NOT YET LOCATED]
- Pearl Joe (1944/9/4), d. KIRS, drowned; DIA inquiry held; body shipped to parents at school’s expense; coroner decided inquest unnecessary
- Peter Michael Purdaby (1962/5/1 – 5/31], d. Coqualeetza Indian Hospital, Sardis; buried Salmon Arm, Switzemalph No. 7 Indian Reserve [NB: death certificate states name as Pete Michel Purdaby, states date of death was 1962/5/13], [NB: death certificate doesn’t state he was a student; may never have been at KIRS]
- Ronald Frezie (1959/8/2), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; autopsy; death certificate signed by father; buried cemetery on Kamloops Indian Reserve
- Rose Adrian (1958/12/25) [NB: Almost certainly same person as Rose Marie Adoph below said to have died on same day]
- Rose Marie Adoph (1958/12/25), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; autopsy; death certificate signed by father; buried Fountain Indian Reserve
- Sandra Seymour (1963/6/1), d. Kamloops Indian reserve in house fire; coroner’s inquest held; buried Kamloops Indian Reserve cemetery [NB: death certificate does not state she was a student; may not have been registered at KIRS]
- Shirley Link (1971/4/17), d. Shalalth in house fire; father signed death certificate; coroner’s inquest held; buried Shalalth Cemetery [NB: This was after KIRS had been turned over to the federal government] [NB: death certificate states name as Shirley Roberta Link]
- Sophie George (1947/1/1) [NB: the same person as Sophie Petel below]
- Sophie Petel (1947/1/1), absence authorized in Q1 and Q2 quarterly returns for 1947; Q3 return states her name as Sophie George (crossed out) May Petel, notes that she has died [NB: since she had not been at KIRS for several months, it seems clear she died at home on the Bonaparte Reserve and is buried there]
- Theophile Dick Billy (1941/4/22), d. Royal Inland Hospital, Kamloops; DIA inquiry held
- Violet William (1945/1/1), Q3 quarterly return for 1945 says ‘deceased at home’; since she was in attendance at KIRS for the full terms in Q1 and Q2 in 1945, but did not return to KIRS in September 1945, it appears she died at Bonaparte over the summer holidays, and is buried in the cemetery on the reserve
- Willard Frank William (date of death not known) [DEATH CERTIFICATE NOT YET LOCATED]
- Willie Joseph (died c. 1914/1/1) [DEATH CERTIFICATE NOT YET LOCATED]
We easily found those 40 “missing children” – children that were never “missing” in the first place. In fact, if we had access to the NCTR data we would probably find the other 11, but access to the data is restricted.
And why is access to that data not permitted? That is an excellent question.
After making the astounding claim that there were thousands of “missing children” the NCTR denies researchers access to the very information necessary for researchers to prove or disprove that claim. This is not acceptable. Those records must be made available to the public. It must be remembered that the TRC went to court to obtain the information they needed. To now shield that information from the public claiming “privacy” is disingenuous, and a violation of their mandate to seek “truth”.
But one very important question remains: Why did the TRC, with its multi-million dollar budget and six years work, not do the same basic research that our little group accomplished? Instead of making outrageous claims about thousands of “missing children” why did the TRC not use some of their generous budget to find exactly what we have found – that those “thousands” of children who died while enrolled in residential schools did not in fact go “missing”?
Instead, one of the Commission’s 94 Calls to Action demanded that the federal government provide funds to search for the allegedly missing children. The federal government responded by committing the very generous sum of $31 million for that purpose.
But that sum was apparently not enough, and since Chief Casimir’s May 27, 2021 claim that 215 “bodies” had been found, the amount has climbed to $321 million with new demands coming in from Indigenous communities across Canada, based on claims of suddenly remembered “missing children”.
It is increasingly clear that much of the “missing children” issue – like the entire residential school issue -has always been about money. In these times, when hospital systems are starved for cash, questions about demands for hundreds of millions of dollars to search for “secretly buried children” and “mass graves” must now be asked.
One vital question is this: if our small group can easily and inexpensively find 40 of the 51 Kamloops “missing children” why is an expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars of precious tax dollars needed at all?
At some point we will know if those hundreds of millions of dollars have confirmed Canada’s newfound reputation as a country where genocide occurred- a country where thousands of indigenous children were “forcibly removed” to residential schools, and were never heard of again.
Or, perhaps we will learn something quite different. If all of that money proves instead that the great majority of the “missing children” can be reliably accounted for the question that might then be asked is this one: “Was the “thousands of missing children” story not the greatest single episode of taxpayer abuse in this country’s history?”
We don’t yet know the answer to that unsettling question. It is however significant that not one credible Canadian historian accepts the story that thousands of indigenous children went into a residential school, and were never heard of again.
Current research has determined that children died in IRS institutions of the diseases of the day (almost certainly less frequently than children on their home reserves) and were properly buried – their deaths having been properly recorded. If only because federal funding depended on enrolment numbers the federally-administered schools kept meticulous records.
The fact that graves and whole cemeteries were not properly tended is quite irrelevant. The tending of graves is a family and community responsibility. The term “unmarked graves” carries no alarming connotation at all. The fact is that there are millions of “unmarked graves” all over this country. The more accurate term is “untended cemeteries”. In short, the best evidence we have reveals that there was nothing sinister or particularly shocking about any of the deaths or burials.
On the other hand, the evidence we have of secret burials by six-year olds, mass graves, grisly murders, and thousands of “missing children” is not evidence at all. They are a collection of urban myths, rumours and conspiracy theories.
And it is one thing for a conspiracy theorist like Kevin Annett to make such baseless claims. Only the most simple mind would believe his tall tales. But a person in Casimir or Sinclair’s position is taken seriously. So, when Casimir announces that she “knows” that six year olds were forced to secretly bury their schoolmates, or Sinclair states categorically that IRS officials “stopped recording deaths after 1920” or that “there were as many as 25,000, or maybe more” missing children it is a very different thing. Those baseless claims do great damage.
Is it possible that Canadians – Indigenous and non-Indigenous- have been sold a bill of goods? Chief Casimir, and the other conspiracy theorists spouting tall tales of secret burials in the “apple orchard” should be given the equivalent of a Writ of Habeas Corpus – namely “deliver up the body”.
Those who make unsubstantiated claims that there are secretly buried bodies must prove their allegations, or have those allegations dismissed as groundless. Having made the extravagant and unfounded claim that 215 – or many thousands – of “missing children” are secretly buried in apple orchards and elsewhere, Chief Casimir can no longer prevent attempts to get at the truth. She must make herself available to reporters, and produce evidence. Failing that, she must withdraw her accusations.
Have Canadians been badly misled by unprincipled chiefs, weak-kneed politicians, and an attention-seeking media? Are our children being taught falsehoods in school? Are opportunists exploiting a myth for financial gain? Is the “thousands of missing children” the greatest hoax in this country’s history?
The “thousands of missing indigenous children” claim is a blood libel on every Canadian, and on all of our ancestors.
I say again: Open up the records, answer reporter’s questions, offer excavation proof – or withdraw the damning accusation.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and senior fellow with Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
The author wishes to thank Mark DeWolf and Shannon Lee Mannion for their editing and wise counsel.