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Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., on June 4, 2021.COLE BURSTON/AFP/Getty Images

The chief of the southern B.C. nation of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc says the effects of the discovery of undocumented gravesites in her community have only just begun.

“This is only the beginning, and there’s still so much work yet to be done,” Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, or Kamloops Indian Band, said during an online news conference on Friday. “Now is the time that we do some important grieving and healing work in our own communities.”

It is the first time Kukpi7 Casimir has spoken since the announcement last week that the remains of at least 215 children had been located around the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, once one of the largest residential schools in the country.

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Those in the community had long talked about burials in the area, and unmarked graves have been suspected or found at other residential schools.

On Friday, Kukpi7 Casimir reiterated that the findings announced on May 27 are preliminary, and that a final report is expected to be released near the end of June. She said the full report will include more detail about the search itself, which the nation has so far only described as having been performed by a specialist using ground-penetrating radar.

“We will be sharing the findings, including the technical aspects, with our community and with the home communities of the lost children, and also with you,” she told reporters. “For all the questions regarding the technology costs and details of the findings, know that we will share when we get to that point. Asking now is very premature at this time.”

Kukpi7 Casimir also clarified that the scene is not a mass grave, but unmarked burial sites that they believe were previously undocumented.

Asked about reports of issues with the RCMP around the search, Kukpi7 Casimir noted the troubled history between Indigenous communities and the force – whose officers sometimes forcibly removed children from their homes and took them to residential schools. But she said there have been preliminary meetings with the RCMP and the coroner, and that “the RCMP have acknowledged that we will be leading the investigation and we’ll be working in collaboration with each other.”

While big questions remain – about what to do with the site, government funding and a desire for both documentation and an apology from the church – Kukpi7 Casimir said the community has been moved by the outpouring of support from people and organizations around the country, including calls, e-mails, messages, donations and visits to the memorial.

On Friday, the community posted a list of ways people can help Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, including being respectful of cultural protocols, reviewing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and calls to action and wearing orange shirts and talking to others about why.

“We’re all grieving. This is unprecedented, and we need to do the right thing, and there is no roadmap,” Kukpi7 Casimir said. “We have a lot of work to do together. While the reality is shocking, and we feel some level of anger, it is time to be gentle with ourselves and with each other, and it’s time to reach out to our loved ones.”

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