Terry Glavin: The Tk’emlúps are growing impatient for answers at the graves

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Part of the sensitivity around the issue is that it involves issues of faith, trust and betrayal that are tied to the relationship between Indigenous Catholics and the institution of the Church.

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There is no easy evidence to point to why or when, exactly, that a certain lake crossed by the Sturgeon River on its way from the westernmost edge of the vast Hudson Bay watershed to the Saskatchewan River took on its distinct and strange spiritual power. . But there has always been something otherworldly about Lac Ste. Anne, first known to the Alexis Nakota Sioux as God’s Lake and to neighboring Crees as Spirit Lake.

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There isn’t much evidence of Saint Anne’s existence either, for that matter. She does not appear anywhere in the Bible, although over the centuries she has been understood as the maternal grandmother of Jesus Christ. She appears in the Quran, and although she first appears in the second-century apocryphal Gospel of James, her life story is almost indistinguishable from that of Anne, the mother of the Hebrew prophet Samuel. , about 1000 years ago.

For longer than anyone can remember, Lac Ste. Anne has been associated with miracles and spiritual redemption, and for over a century has been a place of pilgrimage, bringing Indigenous and Catholic traditions, and indigenous and settler peoples in their thousands, each year, to the feast. of Saint Anne, July 26.

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During his ‘apostolic journey’ to Canada following last year’s upheaval over the Roman Catholic Church’s role in that country’s horrific residential school legacy, Pope Francis will lead a prayer service by the lake on the feast day of Saint Anne, after celebrating mass at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, about 80 kilometers away.

By July 26, it will be 14 months since a series of shocking and misguided headlines about a ‘mass grave’ discovered at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to lower the flags on federal buildings across Canada. There were marches and toppling of statues, and quite a few similar unconfirmed stories at other residential school burial sites.

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Indeed, the Tk’emlúps people never claimed to have discovered a “mass grave”. And after all this time, there is still no easily summoned evidence to show with certainty that children were secretly buried in an orchard adjacent to the long-closed Kamloops, BC, boarding school, let alone in a pit. common.

“Other steps are being taken,” Rosanne Casimir, leader of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, told me this week. “We’re also working with a team that will be looking at some of those next steps, and there’s also, more importantly, we’re going to be working on reaching out to all of the communities affected by the Kamloops Indian Residential School, so that’s basically what that time.

“We’re going to get together to really start defining what those next steps will be, but right now it’s too preliminary.”

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In May 2021, Chief Casimir announced that a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey had detected 215 anomalies that appeared to confirm stories of residential school children buried in an orchard near the school, one of the largest residential schools in the Canada. The number of possible burials was later reduced to 200, and the GPR technician stressed that nothing could be said for sure unless and until the area was excavated.

Within the T’Kemlups community, there is growing impatience with the process. But as former Chief Manny Jules explained to me, the decisions are not for the T’Kemlups. There are jurisdictional issues at play, as the children who attended the school came from dozens of Indigenous communities in the southern interior of British Columbia.

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Jules, one of Canada’s most prominent Indigenous leaders and currently Chief Commissioner of the First Nations Tax Commission, stressed that only Chief Casimir can speak for the T’Kemlups people. But Jules confirmed that 14 major families within the community have told chief and council that a dig, or exhumation, must begin as soon as possible.

“To our knowledge, the children who may be buried there are not from our community,” Jules said. “If child members of the T’Kemlups died, they would have been buried in our own cemetery.” It is unclear whether any T’Kemlup children who attended residential school are “missing” from the record.

The issue is complicated by a report prepared anonymously by an architectural consultant who specializes in site inspections, which suggests that the anomalies found by the T’Kemlups GPR survey are likely the result of decades of ground disturbance. – irrigation ditches, utility lines, backhoe trenches, archaeological excavations, water pipes, etc. The report was made available to the T’Kemlups Chief and Council.

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I spoke with the author of the report and confirmed his background. He said he wanted to remain anonymous because his company works with First Nations and he doesn’t want to cause controversy. He only became interested in the story of the discovery of unmarked graves at the Kamloops school because the GPR’s labeling of the anomalies as “probable” burials didn’t seem to match.

At least a third of the orchard’s area has been extensively disturbed and excavated over the years, and he said any abnormalities would “probably” be attributable to such disturbances. And in decades of excavations in the immediate area of ​​the orchard, no human remains have ever been found, he said. He agrees with GPR specialist retained by T’Kemlups, Sarah Beaulieu, that it cannot be said with certainty whether there are burials in the area unless and until the site is search.

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Jules seemed to agree, also saying that “if there are cubs out there, we need to find out.”

Part of the sensitivity around the issue is that it involves issues of faith, trust and betrayal that are inextricably linked to the relationship between Indigenous Catholics and the institution of the Church, Jules said. “There are believers within our communities. You have to respect that. You must respect their beliefs. The scriptures are one thing. Writers are human.

Working through truth and reconciliation in this troubled relationship will take a long time, Jules said.

However, there are models. Reconciliation has been thriving and flourishing in Lac Ste. Anne for generations. Ancient religious devotions have a way of borrowing, exchanging and reconciling, and it is in this tradition that a pilgrimage to the lake, conceived in a vision that came to Oblate priest Jean-Marie Lestanc in 1887 , was pursued by local Crees and Sioux, as well as Cree-Métis Oblate priest Patrick Beaudry and Cree-Métis priest Patrice Mercredi.

The annual event coinciding with St. Anne’s Day was associated with miracles and soon attracted Sarcie and Blackfoot Catholics, Beavers and Chipewyans, Polish and English settlers, as well as French and German settlers. .

And that is how reconciliation happens.

national post

  1. A girl's dress hanging from a cross blows in the wind near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in a file photo from June 4, 2021.

    Terry Glavin: When story replaces fact

  2. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lays a teddy bear on a small flag in a field before a ceremony at the site of a former residential school in Cowessess First Nation, Saskatchewan, July 6, 2021.

    The Year of the Graves: How the World’s Media Got the Boarding School Graves Wrong

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