On April 20, 2023, the shishalh (Sechelt) First Nation on BC’s Sunshine Coast broke the news that 40 unmarked graves had been identified by ground penetrating radar (GPR) on land near the former St. Augustine’s Residential School.
In the video clip about the GPR findings, CTV opens by saying that the chief is “pleading for privacy now and questions later.” Yet the chief states GPR found “40 graves, shallow graves, only large enough to lay in the fetal position.” Ground penetrating radar cannot identify graves or bodies, only ground disturbances. It is awkward for the chief to create an aura of fact with lurid details that GPR cannot substantiate.
CTV states the First Nation is “ensuring privacy of their survivors and grieving community by providing these interviews and footage to news organizations and turning down interview requests for now.” This is an atypical form of news reporting, to accept the footage, story, and statements from any entity without question and publicize it “as is.” CTV’s journalistic standards state that “CTV News is committed to producing journalism that is accurate, fair, and complete. Our journalists act with honesty, transparency, and independence, including from conflicts of interest.”
Chief Joe says, “For the children we have found, we are going to let them rest right now.” But ground disturbances are the only things that have been found, not children, bodies, or graves — at least not with any evidentiary certainty. CTV seems to be in breach of its own journalistic standards.
There seems, however, to be one positive element amid this farrago of unproven claims: the fate of one so-called “missing child” has been clarified. In an APTN interview with Deborah Baker about the GPR report, she says her grandfather’s brother, Simon, attended St. Augustine’s Residential School. She says in 1935 her grandfather wrote to the school asking what became of him. In the National Truth and Reconciliation Records, there is a documented case of Simon Francis Jeffries who attended St. Augustine’s in 1935. This is the only documented student named Simon in that year who died. He passed away in St. Paul’s hospital Sept. 30, 1935, of an intestinal obstruction, and was buried in the Sechelt Reserve.
Is Deborah Baker aware of her relative’s cause of death and where he was buried? Is that grave on reserve a marked grave today?
Simon is not really a missing child. Nor is his case one of malfeasance. The record-keeping was quite accurate for Simon, but maybe his death was not well communicated to his brother (Deborah Baker’s grandfather), who would also have been young at the time. Perhaps he only remembered that his brother went to residential school and never came home.
St. Augustine’s opened in 1904. As the eminent historian Robert Carney has noted, in the early days residential schools were the hub for social services and medical care. Thus, the schools often tended to many people who may not have attended the school at all. Some of them likely were sick and died and are buried in or near the residential school graveyard.
Viewers should be wary of news conference video that’s supplied by people who don’t allow reporters to ask questions. First Nation leaders who claim to be protecting survivors, while implying they know details of graves that could never be identified by GPR, are misleading their own people as well as the Canadian public.
They are also providing geopolitical ammunition to aggressive competitor nations like China, which exploited the issue of Indian Residential Schools and unmarked graves on the world stage. China deflected a UN investigation into their genocidal actions against the Uyghur people by claiming Canada is the genocidal nation.
First Nations must examine the detailed death records. So far there is no evidence of any unresolved reports of missing persons related to Indian Residential Schools. China will continue to exploit the claim of genocide for its own geopolitical gain as long as Canadians naively play along.
This is an abridged version of an article that originally appeared in The Western Standard. It has been republished with the author’s permission.