Indigenous children mass graves claim has inflicted damage on this country that may never be reversed

Hymie Rubenstein: The truth behind the Indigenous mass grave hoaxAlthough the claim that thousands of Indigenous children who attended Canada’s Indian Residential Schools between 1883 and 1996 are buried in “mass graves” across Canada, reputed victims of genocide, is slowly being exposed as a hoax, most people still believe it is true.

This is one of the findings of a February 2024 Macdonald-Laurier Institute research report based on a national representative sample of 1,503 Canadian that found “by a 79 to 21 ratio, respondents believed that ‘215 Indigenous residential school children were buried in a mass grave on school grounds in Kamloops, BC,’” with just 15 percent disagreeing.

The missing children and genocide claims, bandied about for decades, went into overdrive beginning on May 27, 2021, with a media release from Roseanne Casimir, Chief of the Kamloops Indian Reserve in British Columbia, broadcast around the world claiming “confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”

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But focusing solely on the recent history of both the genocide and mass grave allegations neglects their historical roots and impact, namely that they were propagandized, perhaps even invented, decades earlier by a Christian cleric.

The promoter is a still active but repeatedly criticized defrocked United Church of Canada minister named Kevin Annett, who has actively been spreading tales about missing Indian Residential School children buried in unmarked graves from the early 1990s to the present.

In the 2006 documentary video Unrepentant: Kevin Annett and Canada’s Genocide, viewed by thousands, William “Billie” Coombes, a former Kamloops Indians Residential School student Annett befriended in Vancouver’s downtown skid row, proclaimed: “They want evidence. As a seven-year-old child, I witnessed myself the burial of a child, and I didn’t know what was happening at that time. I was with another student, and I asked him, ‘What’s happening here? I see them digging a hole in the orchard [at Kamloops],’ and he said, ‘They’re burying another one.’”

There have always been two problems with Annett’s many pronouncements. First, neither he nor his informants have ever produced any evidence supporting these claims (“RCMP investigators who have looked into Annett’s allegations always come up empty.”) Second, the mainstream media mainly ignored his accusations, except until very recently when they began to be promoted by Indigenous politicians, activists, and federal government legislators, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In a widely read piece called “The year of the graves,” National Post star investigative journalist Terry Glavin argued “it wasn’t the Indigenous people directly involved who made the disturbing claims that ended up in the headlines” responsible for these entrenched beliefs. Rather, “From the beginning, the local Indigenous leaders tended to argue for careful, thoughtful and precise language when describing the results of ground penetrating radar studies.”

As an example, he quotes Kamloops Chief Roseanne Casimir stating in response to the first shocking headlines of mass graves, “This is not a mass grave, but rather unmarked burial sites that are, to our knowledge, also undocumented.”

But Glavin has grossly exaggerated the lack of Indigenous culpability in spreading the mass graves and genocide stories.

The Kamloops example needs to be discounted because at the July 6-8, 2021, Annual General Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Chief Casimir moved the following resolution passed by the Chiefs-in-Assembly, the AFN’s ruling body:

“[The Chiefs-in-Assembly] Stand in solidarity with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc [Kamloops Indian Band] and all survivors of the Residential School System and their families and assert that the mass grave discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School reveals Crown conduct reflecting a pattern of genocide against Indigenous Peoples that must be thoroughly examined and considered in terms of Canada’s potential breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Glavin and others also failed to look for similar resolutions or statements about mass graves and genocide from hundreds of Indigenous associations: the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, the Union of British Columbian Chiefs, and the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations.

Many hoaxes live on for decades, even centuries. Kevin Annett and his Indigenous ideological acolytes are responsible for inflicting damage on this country that may never be reversed.

Hymie Rubenstein is editor of REAL Indigenous Report and a retired professor of anthropology at the University of Manitoba.

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