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How the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Should Be Marked This Year

Brian Giesbrecht

September 30 will be Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. But this year it should be marked differently.

In 2021, Parliament declared Sept. 30 a statutory holiday to be known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This declaration took place soon after the nation was convulsed by the shocking claim that 215 students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School had somehow met their deaths and had been secretly buried, with the forced help of children “as young as six,” in an apple orchard on the school’s grounds.

Not surprisingly, the first Truth and Reconciliation Day was a sombre occasion, and soon even more sensational claims of “missing children” and secret burials at other locations staggered the nation. Churches were burned by outraged vigilantes, and many people, especially Roman Catholics, lived in fear and shame. Catholic hate crimes skyrocketed 260 percent. Flags were lowered, and tears were shed. In 2023,  Parliament even passed a shocking motion declaring that the residential schools were to be “described” as genocide, a decision largely based on these unvetted claims of secret burials, unmarked graves, and missing children.

The mood of the country was dark as Canadians waited anxiously for excavations and exhumations that would confirm the truth of those horrible claims, including the allegation that “25,000 and maybe more” of residential school students were “missing”.

But those excavations that were carried out proved the exact opposite: there were no bodies, no secret burials. These hearsay stories about murderous priests burying children in secrecy were simply untrue—just conspiracy theories and urban legends. Many Canadians are aware of the recent excavations beneath a church at Pine Creek, Manitoba, that yielded no human remains. But most are not aware that there have been other excavations as well—at Brantford, Shubenecadie, Camsell, Kupers Island, Grouard, McGill University and elsewhere—that have revealed no graves where Indigenous communities said there were. In every one of those cases, community residents were absolutely convinced that graves existed.  Excavation proved them wrong.

The original Kamloops claim was based mainly on the faulty opinion of a ground-penetrating radar operator who had neglected to check for previous excavations in the apple orchard area that she had searched. Had she done so, she would have found that what she thought might be graves was almost certainly a 1924 septic trench installation.

The only other “evidence” for the Kamloops claim, and all of the other copy-cat claims that followed, consisted of hearsay stories that had circulated in the communities. We now know that a great many of those stories had been actively promoted by a defrocked United Church minister. His wild stories of murderous priests burying children in secret had thoroughly infected Indigenous communities. Respected investigative reporter, Terry Glavin exposed that person’s outrageous claims years ago.

For reasons that are now hard to understand, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians fell for these baseless stories. One possible reason is the fact that both the mainstream media and our own political leaders found it convenient to pretend to believe the false stories. Glavin does a takedown of both in his brave National Post article “The year of the graves.

The good news is that it is becoming clearer by the day that these stories of “missing children” who died and secretly buried under sinister circumstances are, and have always been… stories. Just stories. Like the game of “Telephone”, they have proliferated and been exaggerated over the years, taking on a life of their own, simply because no one has held the storytellers to account. No one has asked “Where is the evidence?” Our legacy media, normally quick to question unsupported claims, seems to blindly accept this kind of Indigenous accusation.

To date, our own tax-subsidized legacy media seem hardly to have noticed that the “missing children” claims are falling apart. But the international media have certainly noticed. There are now a great many international news stories that ask the same question: How could Canada have fallen for such obviously false stories in the first place?

Since that first grim National Day for Reconciliation, much has been learned. The good news is that no child was killed or allowed to die from neglect or abuse, and then secretly buried. There was no Canadian genocide.

And that is why this year’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, or “Orange Shirt Day,” should be a day of celebrating this good news.

And by the way, that orange shirt that was so famously taken away from an Indigenous student on the day of her arrival as a child who had no parents? The staff member who took it away was almost certainly one of the many Indigenous people who worked at the school. It was taken away for purely practical reasons, for laundering and checking for insect parasites. No racism there.

And despite one claim the former student has made that her orange shirt was never returned to her, on another occasion she said she couldn’t remember if she ever got her very precious shirt back when she left the school after one year of enrolment.

But what about the thousands of “missing children” we were told about?

Good news there too. Kimberly Murray, special adviser to the Minister of Justice, told the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples on March 21 that there are no missing children: “The children aren’t missing; they’re buried in the cemeteries.”

In fact, Murray went on to advise indigenous people who are looking for lost burial sites of long-dead ancestors to consult ancestry.com. There is now a $60 million building being constructed at the University of Manitoba, where staff designated as employees of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation will essentially perform that function for burial-site seekers, helping them with the ancestry.com process.

So yes, there are millions of Indigenous and non-Indigenous deceased who lie in unmarked graves from coast to coast, simply because their burial places have gone untended. Some of them went to residential schools, some to federal day schools, and quite a few of them to no school at all. Most died from infectious diseases of the day. While sad, there is absolutely nothing sinister about that.

It is now almost 30 years since Prime Minister Jean Chrétien established the Residential School Healing Fund. Since then, Canada has lived through three decades of residential school angst and blame, including two-and-a-half years of feverish searches for phantom graves. Billions have been paid out in compensation to IRS “victims”, spent on “reconciliation” programs from coast to coast, and pointless cemetery searches. Most Canadians know that their country has acknowledged the harms done by the residential school system, provided compensation, and publicly apologized. It is now time to finally move past this.

The fact that Canada has committed no genocide is good news for everyone. It is particularly good news for Indigenous youth who now know that their ancestors were not crime victims. Wise Indigenous leaders should send packing the genocide hustlers who have misinformed their youth in order to make money, advance their careers, or gain some other kind of advantage.

Canadians can use this national reconciliation day as an opportunity to move beyond the sad burdens of yesterday. Searching for old graves may be a nice hobby for retired people, but it is not something entire communities—and particularly young people—should spend much time doing. The truth is that there has never been a better time and a better place than today’s Canada for Indigenous young people with some talent and education. Today, any young hard-working Indigenous persons can have almost any job or career they want. Major banks, the CBC, the government, and private businesses and industry are eager to hire them.

It’s time to get out of the grievance graveyard.

So I repeat: it is good news that the stories about thousands of indigenous children meeting an awful fate are not true. This National Day for Truth and Reconciliation should be a day of recognition of that fact for all Canadians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

And it should mark a time to move forward.

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