Shooting the Messenger with Blanks

In a recent Winnipeg Free Press column, Niigaan Sinclair argues that some people are exploiting mistakes in reportage on the claims of missing children at former Indian Residential Schools (IRS).In […]
Published on October 25, 2023

In a recent Winnipeg Free Press column, Niigaan Sinclair argues that some people are exploiting mistakes in reportage on the claims of missing children at former Indian Residential Schools (IRS).In fact, Sinclair claims: “By pointing out mistakes in media coverage, these individuals have called the entire issue of unmarked burial sites at residential schools a ‘huge lie’ or a hoax’ fabricated by First Nations, the federal government, and other nefarious forces.”

The main issues with the claim of unmarked burial sites are that, so far, none have actually been discovered nor are there any children known to be missing from the schools as Special Interlocutor Kimberly Murray stated to a Senate Committee on Mar. 21, 2021: “The children aren’t missing; they’re buried in the cemeteries.”

Sinclair concedes that “no exhumations (have) taken place yet,” but he doesn’t tell readers that there have been excavations, including a recent dig in a church basement on Pine Creek First Nation. There has been no exhumations because none of the excavations have uncovered any evidence of buried bodies.

Instead, Sinclair focuses on the term, “mass graves.” When Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation initially announced that “the remains of 215 children” had been found, some media outlets, such as the New York Times, reported that a ‘mass grave had been discovered.’ Although Chief Casimir soon issued a clarification that these were suspected individual graves, in July 2021, she moved an AFN resolution stating clearly that there were “the mass grave discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.”

Just days after that announcement, 22 lawyers filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court stating: “The Complainants submit the deaths, mass unmarked grave and general treatment of the 215 deceased children constitute crimes against humanity.”

In case you missed the headline, the ICC rejected the complaint.

Incredibly, two and a half years later, no excavations at the Kamloops orchard have occurred. The discovery of ‘children’s remains’ has since been revised to ‘potential unmarked graves.’ One researcher studied archival records of the orchard and discovered that a septic field had been installed in that field in 1924. We still do not know whether the soil disturbances detected by the Ground Penetrating Radar are graves or old septic tiles. In 2021 Tk’emlúps promised to release the GPR report but has yet to do so.

Sinclair still refers to the ‘215’ number even though the archaeologist, Sarah Beaulieu, publicly corrected the number to 200 shortly after the announcement. Beaulieu learned that a previous university team had conducted digs there and her survey included some of those earlier excavations.

Any criminal investigator looking into historical claims of missing children would search for missing child reports. If there weren’t 200 children reported missing, what makes anyone believe there are 200 secret burials?

Although Sinclair mentions the report by the Special Interlocutor for the Missing Children in Unmarked Graves and Burials associated with Indian Residential Schools, he is remiss in making the critical distinction between unmarked graves and unmarked burials. An unmarked grave does not mean that the grave was never marked or that it was not the result of an ordinary funeral.

Unmarked burials imply wrongful death. The excavation of the church basement was based on community rumors of secret burials. To date, no unmarked burials have been found at any former IRS, Indian hospital, or related institutions.

At some point, the growing absence of evidence can be reasonably construed as evidence of absence.

“One might think,” concludes Sinclair,”[that] after the compilation of documents and testimonies on residential schools, a six-year study by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and countless acknowledgements by the federal government and churches who ran the schools it would be impossible to dispute genocide occurred.”

What documents state there are missing children in unmarked burials?

The TRC reported no evidence of a single homicide committed by any staff member, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, against any student for the entirety of the IRS period, about 113 years, and did not say that genocide had occurred.

What acknowledgements by either the federal government or any churches that managed the schools said there were missing and murdered children secretly buried at former schools? Nothing was said in the TRC Report. In fact, no responsible citizen would accept the extraordinary claim of a genocide committed against children by priests and nuns without ordinary forensic evidence.

Sinclair’s argument is one of both omission and indignation. Given the inconsistencies in his missing children narrative it is no wonder that an increasing number of people have doubts about what they are being told.

Of course, Sinclair is free to wish for legislation to gag ‘denialists’ but we should not dignify his resentment with the law.


Michael Melanson is a Winnipeg writer and tradesperson.

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