Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Emmy Morris, an Indigenous woman who attended Indian day school and whose mother who went to a residential school, hugs her four-year-old daughter, Sharon Morris-Jones, at a display of orange shirts, flowers and shoes on the steps of the B.C. Legislature. Earlier, the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations presided over a ceremony in honour of children whose remains were found buried near a former residential school on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation's territory.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press


The people of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation long suspected there were horrifying secrets hidden near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. What they found – an unmarked burial ground that they say contains 215 children’s remains – angered and galvanized other First Nations who fear their relatives are buried in sites just like it across Canada.

It’s also reopened questions about a colonial system designed to separate Indigenous youth from their parents and cultures, how many people that system killed and who should be held accountable.

Here’s a primer on the story so far.

Need to talk with someone? There is a national Indian Residential School Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419). In B.C., a toll-free First Nations and Indigenous Crisis Line (1-800-588-8717) is offered through the KUU-US Crisis Line Society.


The children’s remains in Kamloops: What we know

Where is the Kamloops Indian Residential School?

Built on the territory of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in the southern B.C. Interior, the Kamloops Indian Residential School was at one point the largest of Canada’s residential schools. It operated from 1890 to 1969, mostly under a Catholic order called the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, but the federal government ran it as a day school for nine more years before it closed in 1978.

Previously, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s registry could confirm only 51 deaths at Kamloops from 1914 to 1963. But the Tk’emlups community long believed that more children were buried nearby and tried for about 20 years to find them. This year, a government grant allowed the nation to pay for ground-penetrating radar, which was used over the Victoria Day weekend to find the site. It contained the remains of 215 children, the nation said on May 27, and remains are believed to be from previously undocumented deaths, Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir says. More detailed findings from the survey team are expected to be made public in June.

Who is investigating what happened to these children?

Depending how the Tk’emlúps and other nations decide to proceed, an investigation could require help from the B.C. Coroners Service or the Royal B.C. Museum. Meanwhile, the RCMP has also opened an investigation that the former TRC chair says has created friction in the Tk’emlúps community, but the local detachment says the nation is in charge of the case and Mounties are there to support them.

How does ground-penetrating radar work?

Ground penetrating radar, or GPR, is increasingly

being seen as an effective tool to locate

unmarked gravesites, such as those believed to

be present around Canada’s residential schools.

But experts say the work requires careful meth-

odology, protocols and standards to ensure the

findings are accurate and warn that the stakes

are high.

Sites are divided into grids to ensure accurate data collection

Monitor

Operator

Antenna

Control

unit

High-

frequency

radio waves

GPR works by passing back and forth over a

gridded survey site with a portable cart-mounted

unit. The control unit emits a continuous series of

high-frequency radio waves, which pass through

the ground. The strength and rate at which this

electromagnetic energy is reflected back from

various materials is measured. Different substanc-

es have various capacities to store or reflect elec-

trical energy; metal has a high capacity to reflect

energy, while dry sand has much less. The data is

then displayed as a radargram that can be inter-

preted by experts.

Example of

a GPR cross-

sectional

radargram

JOHN SOPINSKI AND murat yükselir /THE

GLOBE AND MAIl, sources: leica; geomodel

inc. (radargram); sensors and software

inc.; groundpenetratingradar.co.uk; geo-

physical.com

Ground penetrating radar, or GPR, is increasingly

being seen as an effective tool to locate unmarked

gravesites, such as those believed to be present

around Canada’s residential schools. But experts say

the work requires careful methodology, protocols and

standards to ensure the findings are accurate and

warn that the stakes are high.

Sites are divided into grids to ensure accurate data collection

Monitor

Operator

Antenna

Control

unit

High-

frequency

radio waves

GPR works by passing back and forth over a gridded

survey site with a portable cart-mounted unit. The

control unit emits a continuous series of high-fre-

quency radio waves, which pass through the ground.

The strength and rate at which this electromagnetic

energy is reflected back from various materials is

measured. Different substances have various capaci-

ties to store or reflect electrical energy; metal has a

high capacity to reflect energy, while dry sand has

much less. The data is then displayed as a radargram

that can be interpreted by experts.

Example of

a GPR cross-

sectional

radargram

JOHN SOPINSKI AND murat yükselir /THE GLOBE AND

MAIl, sources: leica; geomodel inc.(radargram);

sensors and software inc.; groundpenetratingra-

dar.co.uk; geophysical.com

Ground penetrating radar, or GPR, is increasingly being seen as an

effective tool to locate unmarked gravesites, such as those believed

to be present around Canada’s residential schools. But experts say

the work requires careful methodology, protocols and standards to

ensure the findings are accurate and warn that the stakes are high.

Monitor

Operator

Antenna

Control

unit

High-

frequency

radio waves

Sites are divided into grids to ensure accurate data collection

GPR works by passing

back and forth over a

gridded survey site with

a portable cart-mounted

unit. The control unit

emits a continuous series

of high-frequency radio

waves, which pass

through the ground. The

strength and rate at which

this electromagnetic

energy is reflected back

from various materials is

measured. Different sub-

stances have various

capacities to store or

reflect electrical energy;

metal has a high capacity

to reflect energy, while

dry sand has much less.

The data is then displayed

as a radargram that can

be interpreted by experts.

JOHN SOPINSKI AND murat

yükselir /THE GLOBE AND

MAIl, sources: leica; geo-

model inc. (radargram);

sensors and software inc.;

groundpenetratingradar.

co.uk; geophysical.com

Example of

a GPR cross-

sectional

radargram

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, June 6: Lights illuminate shoes and stuffed toys outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters

What is a residential school? Some context

Who ran residential schools in Canada?

From the 1870s to the 1990s, residential schools were part of a systematic federal policy to assimilate Indigenous children into European culture, based on racist assumptions that their own cultures were inferior.

Children were separated from their families and lived in poorly funded schools where federal- or church-run staffs punished them for speaking their own languages. Physical and sexual abuse, malnutrition and disease were common. The last school closed in Saskatchewan in 1996.

Survivors pressed the government and churches for compensation and apologies, a process that led to a $2-billion settlement and the creation of the TRC. Its final report in 2015, based on interviews with more than 6,000 witnesses, said the schools amounted to cultural genocide and are inseparable from the present-day problems Indigenous people face, from high rates of poverty, suicide and incarceration to the loss of Indigenous lands and traditions.

How many people died in Canada’s residential schools?

The TRC’s Missing Children Project has so far documented more than 4,100 deaths in the schools, but the full tally could be as high as 6,000.

The 2015 report noted huge gaps in the available records of deceased students’ names, genders or even causes of death. Six of the TRC’s “calls to action” (71 to 76) have to do with missing children and burials, and demand a clear plan to tell families where their lost loved ones are buried and make sure cemeteries are well maintained.

How many residential schools were there in Canada? Which ones are likely to have more unmarked graves?

Hudson

Bay

Kamloops

St. Anne’s

Shubenacadie

St. Mary’s

Gordon’s

Portage

la Prairie

UNITED STATES

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: truth and reconciliation commission

Hudson

Bay

Kamloops

St. Anne’s

Shubenacadie

St. Mary’s

Gordon’s

Portage

la Prairie

UNITED STATES

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: truth and reconciliation commission

YUKON

NWT

NUNAVUT

Hudson

Bay

B.C.

ALTA.

N.L.

SASK.

MAN.

Kamloops

St. Anne’s

QUE.

PEI

ONT.

Shubenacadie

St. Mary’s

Gordon’s

N.B.

Portage

la Prairie

N.S.

UNITED STATES

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: truth and reconciliation commission

There were 138 residential schools reviewed by the TRC, highlighted in this map. Several First Nations who live near the sites are pressing for government help to search for hidden burial grounds like the one in Kamloops, a call supported by the Assembly of First Nations, the United Nations Human Rights Office and other groups. The Trudeau government earmarked $27-million for such searches in the 2019 budget but hadn’t yet made it available; cabinet ministers have now said they’ll do so. MPs from all parties also passed a non-binding NDP motion that demanded the government speed up efforts to pay for search and identification efforts.

The Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., operated by the Anglican Church from 1828 to 1970, is one of a few remaining residential school buildings left in Canada. When it reopens in 2024, it will become the only one that has been restored. Working with survivors, historians and museum consultants, the Woodland Cultural Centre aims to fill it with information about the residential school system to turn the former school into a “site of conscience.”

New calls for action

Ottawa, May 31: Shoes, signs and tobacco sit on the Centennial Flame.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Since the Tk’emlups nation’s discovery, Indigenous leaders and advocates have pressed Ottawa for more action to help residential-school survivors and follow through on the TRC’s recommendations. These include:

  • Pressing the Vatican: A papal apology for residential schools was one of the goals recommended by the TRC, and Mr. Trudeau has asked the Vatican to make that happen, without result. Pope Francis spoke about the Kamloops graves at his Sunday service on June 6, but it wasn’t an apology; instead, he expressed his “closeness with the Canadian people” and said political and religious authorities should “continue to collaborate with the determination to shed light on this sad affair and to commit humbly to a path of reconciliation and healing.”
  • Monuments and naming: Governments and public institutions are under renewed pressure to take down monuments or rename institutions that honour people who helped build the residential-school system in the 19th century, such as prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald and educator Egerton Ryerson. In Toronto, a Ryerson statue was torn down by protesters at the university named after him; in Charlottetown, city council voted to permanently remove a Macdonald statue that they had previously considered keeping with new signage.
  • Oaths: Two of the TRC’s calls to action involved changing the Canadian citizenship oath to include references to Indigenous people and treaty obligations, and the federal government has fast-tracked a bill, C-8, to do that. It still needs to pass the Senate. The new oath would read: “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”
  • Statutory holiday: Federal MPs were already nearing the final vote on C-5, a bill to make Sept. 30 a national day to commemorate residential-school victims and survivors, when the Kamloops discovery was made public. The bill was approved in the House and Senate in quick succession.

More reading

Indigenous voices

Tanya Talaga: It’s time to bring our children home from the residential schools

Jody Wilson-Raybould: Unmarked graves are a painful reminder of why we need leadership

Indigenous poet Jordan Abel explores legacy of residential schools in mixed-media book

Michelle Good’s debut novel, Five Little Indians, chronicles the aftermath of residential school

The Decibel podcast

Will the Pope apologize for residential schools?

In Kamloops with Tanya Talaga

'It's unfathomable': Canada's lost residential school children

Commentary: The Church’s role

Jeremy M. Bergen: The theological reason why the Catholic Church is reticent to apologize for residential schools

George Valin and Maurice Switzer: After the Kamloops findings, Catholic bishops must pursue a papal apology – now


Compiled by Globe staff

With reports from Jana G. Pruden, Andrea Woo, Jeffrey Jones, Kate Taylor and The Canadian Press


We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies