A tweet from the Tk'emlups tribe (nation) last May 27 about the "discovery" of 215 graves of wards of a former boarding school in Canadian British Columbia triggered a news tsunami. The series of news and events included the burning of churches and the announced visit of the Pope to Canada. Francis would ask forgiveness for the role of Catholics in historical colonialist abuses of indigenous Canadians. On February 1, it was learned that a delegation of Canadian bishops and aboriginal leaders will meet with the Pope in Rome in late March to prepare for the visit.
June 8, 2021, at Omnes, I compared the Canadian disappearances with the Argentine disappearances of the 1970s.. Unfortunate comparison. Canadian historian Jacques Rouillard says that it has not yet been proven that any indigenous student was murdered at that boarding school in Kamloops, B.C. Nor has it been proven that educational, political or religious authorities premeditatedly killed pupils at the 130 Aboriginal boarding schools that operated from the mid-19th century to the end of the 20th century.
In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the government and the other parties in parliament for these boarding schools. And that year the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to investigate the residential school system. The Commission gathered seven thousand testimonies from what it called "survivors" and in 2015 established the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation (CNVR), publishing a six-volume report that gathers testimonies, historical documentation, indigenist ideology and concrete recommendations, such as the Pope coming to Canada to ask for forgiveness. The TRC concludes that the residential school system amounted to "cultural genocide". The 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a j'accuse voluminous - but never mentions student murders.
Historian Jacques Rouillard doubts that there have been student murders
Omnes interviewed 77-year-old Jacques Rouillard, professor emeritus of history at the Université de Montréal, in Montréal. Rouillard is like the child in Andersen's fairy tale, The emperor's new clothesin which the boy shouts: "But the emperor is naked! We offer the full interview below:
Were 215 young men buried unmarked in the Kamloops Indian reserve cemetery between 1890 and 1978?
-It would surprise me enormously. We will have to excavate to find out. The anthropologist Sarah Beaulieu made an analysis of the soil with a "georadar" on the surface and noticed deformations. But this apparatus cannot allow her to know if there are children's bodies in the ground. Since the 1990s, rumors of children buried in mass graves by the religious and of mistreatment in those schools have been spread among the aborigines. I believe this less and less every day: at least until the remains have been unearthed to see if it is true. The CNVR has given the names of 50 students who died at the Kamloops boarding school. Seventeen died in hospital and eight as a result of accidents. As for the place of burial, 24 are buried in the cemetery of their Indian reserves and four in the native cemetery of the Kamloops reserve. For the rest, information is missing or complete death certificates need to be consulted at the Archives of British Columbia. But you can't do anything about the unknown: how do you want to find out where unnamed students might be buried? The TRC report uses a flawed methodology for counting deaths.
This is all part of French Canadian history, because missionaries from French Canada went west. And they are accused of a criminal act that would be the worst collective crime in Canadian history. It is impossible for religious communities to have committed such a crime. It doesn't make any sense. The media are not expressing a critical sense.
Is it plausible that those Kamloops children died and were buried without notifying their parents and without a death record?
-No. That story is literally implausible. The gang leaders or the parents would have complained. These are not people who keep quiet. They would have gone to the Ministry of Indian Affairs, to the police, they are families as interested in the fate of their children as any other family. This idea of mass graves of unknown children dead without their parents having reacted seems to me to be completely outlandish: tout à fait farfelu.
A writer and archivist from the province of Alberta, Éloi DeGrâce, sent me the following email:
"I worked as an archivist for the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Sisters of Providence, and the Archbishop, in Edmonton, Alberta. The TRC never consulted those archives. However, they are full of important documents. In the chronicles that I copied into my computer I was able to write down all the names of the deceased pupils at school, at home or in the hospital of five Indian schools in the province of Alberta. I even wrote down the names of the deceased former students; the Sisters were very close to their former students and close to the families in bereavement. It is an important issue because the children are said to have 'disappeared' without a trace. The five Alberta schools that I have chronicles of were on reserves and parents took their children there. When a child became seriously ill, the parents were often informed. The chronicles show well that the dead were taken to the mission cemetery. No secrets. The five schools I studied did not have a private cemetery. Since those schools were on the reservations, it was never a question of 'uprooting' children from their families. I don't believe in missing children or mass graves. I think it was impossible for a child to disappear. There was a registry. The government knew who went to school. The doctor and the 'reserve agent' had to authorize the admission of a new pupil. And there was a lot of inspection of all kinds during the year: school inspector, doctors, nurses, reserve agent, Ottawa officials. If even one student was missing, it would have been known. And in Alberta, parents were free to send their children or not. Parents knew what was going on in the school. The parents of the students who went to the schools had graduated from the schools. If they had been mistreated, why would they have sent their own children to those institutions?"
You are a professional historian: what means do you think should be used to clarify this issue?
-First, the indigenous community of Kamloops should go to the police to find the culprits of this horrible crime; if such a crime had happened anywhere else in Canada, they would have gone to the police to verify who the culprits are and bring them to trial if necessary. So in this boarding school drama, the culprits will have to be identified with a police investigation.
In the case of the Cowenesess First Nation Boarding House in Marieval, Saskatchewan province, founded in 1899, whose graves are the graves of 751 people buried there?
-That Catholic cemetery is known to the people of the area. It should not be implied that children have disappeared and are buried there, without digging up the remains first, and investigating. It is known that there are many adults buried in those graves. I consulted the records of marriages, baptisms and deaths during a period of that Catholic mission. They are available. One cannot imply that there are "missing" children buried in that cemetery. It is inaccurate. It is possible that some students are buried there, as well as adults of all kinds, including nuns and priests, and infants. It appears that the wooden crosses that once existed in that cemetery were removed in the 1960s because they were too deteriorated.
In Williams Lake, British Columbia, 93 unidentified graves have been discovered near a former boarding school, Saint Joseph's Mission (1891-1981). Whitney Spearing, who is leading the investigation, and band leader Willie Sellars make very serious accusations against the former priests and nuns...
-Most of the missionaries came from Quebec. It is the cemetery of this Catholic mission. But once again, it is a question of preliminary investigations. Let them call the police, to discover the perpetrators of this crime, and let them dig. The indigenous people there have come to their own conclusions. Mais en soithat religious communities are responsible for such horrible crimes as throwing dead children into mass graves, such slaughter is unimaginable. It makes no sense. Let them prove it. There is no proof. No one has been charged. There are no names of children. There are no names of parents of allegedly missing children. Everything is very vague. It seems to me that with all these stories there is an anti-Catholicism. primary.
In its 2015 report, the TRC identified 3,200 student deaths at the boarding schools in almost a century and a half. But that Commission could not find the names of a third of those students; and it could not find out the cause of death of half of them (that is, 1600). Why were there deceased students without names?
-There was a methodological error. They counted the deceased children twice. I explain it in my articles: Where are the remains of the children buried in the Kamloops autochtone boarding house? ((DOC) Kamloops pensionnat | Jacques Rouillard - Academia.edu) y In Kamloops, Not One Body Has Been Found - The Dorchester Review)
The number of deceased children is therefore inflated. That is why the Commission could only find the names of 32 % of these deceased children: because they are double-counted. Now they are looking for these "missing" children in the cemeteries near the boarding schools. This is a false hypothesis from the beginning. The TRC's objective was not properly scientific historical, but was to demonstrate that the indigenous complaints were substantiated, that the abuses had taken place. It is not objective history of the boarding schools. The TRC presents an ultra-critical picture of the history of the residential schools, and of the role of the religious communities, of the role of the Canadian government.
It should be noted that in English Canada at the end of the 19th century, compulsory schooling had been legislated and therefore the authorities wanted to extend compulsory schooling to natives between 6 and 15 years of age. The Canadian government created boarding schools in 1890 because there were scattered Native people who could not attend classes in normal schools, and made it compulsory to attend them. It was perhaps not the best way to educate them. The boys who had to go were between 6 and 15 years old. It seems inhumane. They should have left parents the freedom to send their children or not. Perhaps that would have been the best solution. The government's goal was to assimilate them into Canadian society. Today they are reproached for that, and the indigenous leaders are asking for and getting from the federal government more than millions of dollars in financial compensation for that reason, and for having lost their cultures and ways of life. And they are asking for more and more money in compensation, also from the Catholic Church. They are going to ask for financial compensation also from the Pope. I suggest consulting a document on indigenous legal claims. Billions of dollars are at stake, and there is a big profit for some Canadian lawyers: Tom Flanagan, FISCAL EXPLOSION - Federal Spending on Indigenous Programs, 2015-2022..
Do you find in your research that the authorities and missionaries wanted to suffocate native cultures?
-But from there to speak of "cultural genocide", as the TRC does, is debatable. I prefer to use the expressions "assimilation" and "integration". There was an attempt to assimilate the indigenous people to the culture of European origin, to the English or French language, to teach them to speak and write in those languages, to count. That was the role of the schools. But they had the effect of suffocating the native cultures and languages. They did not want to exclude them, as white Americans wanted to exclude blacks. It had the effect of stifling their ways of life, their cultures, their languages. Today, when education is in the hands of indigenous people, students also learn to write in English, to count, etc., and indigenous history and language subjects are added, and that's fine. But realistically they cannot go back to their original languages. Because they cannot function in the modern world like that. It's impossible.
They lost, then, a part of their cultures. But could it have been otherwise, could they also have been taught their languages and their histories? Yes. It would have been more respectful. But there is a big difference with the treatment of the black community in the United States for a long time: there they tried to exclude them. In Canada, since the 19th century, they have not tried to exclude but to integrate the indigenous people as quickly as possible, with the dominant values and languages. They concentrated on the youth. The missionaries' objective was to instruct and convert them.
Until the 1990s most indigenous people had a favorable opinion of residential schools. I think that one "plotter" who may have contributed to the current situation is Kevin Annett, a former Canadian Protestant pastor, denounced by the United Church of Canada (see Kevin Annett and the United Church).