Further ground-penetrating radar searches to begin at Kamloops residential school

As the one-year anniversary of the search for unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School approaches, another round of ground-penetrating radar surveillance is set to begin.

The Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said in a statement Thursday that the latest search will focus on "the Chief Louis Centre lands within the CLC Roadway remediation."

Sarah Beaulieu – a University of the Fraser Valley professor and ground-penetrating radar expert – will direct the survey with the support of the nation's Le Estcwicwéy̓ (The Missing) team and the Tk̓emlúps Natural Resources Department.

The work is expected to begin this week and take more than a month to complete, the nation said.

Beaulieu also helped lead the initial search of the Kamloops school, which confirmed evidence of what elders and residential school survivors had been saying for years: That missing children had been buried on school grounds.

The nation announced in May 2021 that it believed unmarked graves holding the remains of 215 children had been located through the use of ground-penetrating radar.

The initial search focused on an area that once held an apple orchard, which was chosen in part because of the discovery of a child's rib bone.

Additionally, survivors of the school described children as young as six being woken up during the night and asked to dig graves in the orchard.

In July 2021, Beaulieu said those factors, combined with the discovery in the area of a youth's tooth during a test dig at the site, helped determine the 7,000 square metres involved in the study.

The ground-penetrating radar expert said at the time that only a forensics investigation, which would include excavation, would determine the true number of children buried on the school grounds. She identified roughly 200 "targets of interest" that may be graves.

As of July 2021, there were still nearly 650,000 square metres left to search on the Kamloops residential school grounds.

The findings of the initial search kicked off a series of events across the country over the following 12 months, including more searches and more discoveries of suspected unmarked graves at residential school sites.

In September, the federal government announced that September 30 would be a new national holiday called Truth and Reconciliation Day.

Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir sent two invitations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit the community to take part in a day of ceremony and sombre reflection on that day.

Trudeau did not respond to those requests, and instead flew over Kamloops on his way to Tofino for a family beach vacation.

The Prime Minister was very contrite on a hastily arranged visit three weeks later, when he said he deeply regretted his decision.

In April, a delegation of Indigenous, Métis and Inuit leaders visited the Vatican for a historic apology from Pope Francis.

“With all my heart, I am very sorry,” the Pope said, while promising to visit Canada.

He is widely expected to repeat his apology when he makes the trip in July, but a stop in Kamloops is not on his itinerary. He is not scheduled to visit B.C. at all.

All of these events over the last 12 months can be traced back to the announcement of the 215 unmarked children’s graves in Kamloops.

“It was the children. It was children that brought us together. And that we mourn together and we grieve together,” said Casimir on Wednesday.

“For many this is about our collective history and it’s about those meaningful steps moving forward.”

On Monday, May 23, the nation will hold a memorial marking the anniversary.

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll free line at 1-800-721-0066.

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Kendra Mangione and Ben Miljure