In an interim report released on June 16, Kimberly Murray, the federally appointed Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites Associated with Indian Residential Schools, maintains that unmarked burial sites of missing IRS children “are known to exist based on Survivor truths, records, and remote sensing.”
Special Interlocutor Kimberly R. Murray
Is that right? Consider, first, that phrase “Survivor truths.” Designating graduates of IRS schools as “survivors” instantly implies that their experiences in an IRS institution were comparable to the sufferings of the millions of Jews who managed to survive their experience in Nazi death camps. Any such comparison is outrageous.
Moreover, what, precisely, are “Survivor truths”? Murray does not say, but she implies that anything former IRS students say about their alleged sufferings in an IRS school must be true and should not be challenged.
Is that a reliable claim? On October 14, 2022, the CBC reported that Chief Derek Nepinak of the Pine Creek First Nation in western Manitoba had called in the RCMP to investigate purported evidence of 14 unmarked graves discovered by ground-penetrating radar in the basement of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church, which is located on the site of an Indian Residential School operated by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate from 1890 to 1969.
Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church in Manitoba
According to the CBC: “Survivors had spoken about ‘horror stories’ in the basement.” But what happened when the suspected graves were dug up? As Chief Nepinak disclosed on August 18, none of them contained human remains.
Sensational stories of hundreds of other unmarked graves on or near the site of an IRS institution are also based entirely on “Survivor truths” and the findings of soil disturbances by ground-penetrating radar. But none of these allegations have been confirmed. There is no evidence that any of these supposed graves contain any human remains, let alone those of a missing IRS child.
Granted, there is solid evidence that some IRS employees committed serious crimes, including sexually abusing the children in their care. The sexual deviants who committed these atrocities cannot be too harshly condemned.
Were such crimes commonplace in the IRS schools? Kimberly Murray thinks so. As evidence, she cites in her report a litany of horrific crimes that were reportedly committed by employees of St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ontario, an institution variously operated by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns between 1904 and 1976.
St. Anne’s Indian Residential School, Fort Albany
Murray charges that it “has been documented and proven through Survivor testimonies, historical records, police investigations, criminal convictions, civil lawsuits and hundreds of adjudicator decisions [that] Indigenous children taken to St. Anne’s Indian Residential School were physically, sexually, culturally, and spiritually abused by those entrusted with their care.” She also maintains that the hapless students “were routinely beaten, frozen, whipped and forced to eat moldy food.”
Edmund Metatawabin, a former Chief of Fort Albany First Nation who attended St. Annes, likewise claims that “the whole truth is reflected in the combined oral stories from all St. Anne’s Survivors.” In a report headlined “The horrors of St. Anne’s” (March 29, 2018}, the CBC alleged: “Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) files reveal the history of abuse at the notorious residential school that built its own electric chair.”
Metatawabin claims he was tortured in that home-made chair and Murray contends that it “was often used to punish children.”
These allegations are appalling, if true. But are they actually true?
In 1992, the OPP began an extensive investigation into all the charges of horrific abuse at St. Anne’s over a 31-year period. The inquiry lasted more than six years, in the course of which OPP detectives interviewed some 700 alleged victims and witnesses. According to the CBC, the OPP also “gathered 900 statements about assaults, sexual assaults, suspicious deaths and a multitude of abuses alleged to have occurred at the school between 1941 and 1972.”
What were the results of this exhaustive investigation? The CBC reports: “Investigators identified 74 suspects and charged seven people. Five were convicted of crimes committed at the residential school.”
Five convictions are clearly five too many. Two of those convicted were nuns — one Cree and the other Ojibway. They were found guilty of assault causing bodily harm and were both given suspended sentences. The other three individuals — two of them kitchen staff, one a child-care worker — pled guilty to committing indecent assault; one was sentenced to 18 months, another to six months, and the third received no jail time at all.
Note that despite the OPP’s extensive inquiry, no employee of St. Anne’s was charged with torturing students in the school’s electric chair. To this day, the infamous allegation is unproven; it is based entirely on the untested and uncorroborated testimony of former students like Metatawabin.
Girls in the dormitory of St. Anne’s Indian Residential School
Murray says nothing in her report about the outcome of the OPP investigation. Yet she still alleges that a multitude of horrendous crimes were committed by Catholic nuns and other employees at St. Anne’s.
Were appalling crimes committed at some IRS schools? That is unquestioned. Should the schools have done more to help students retain their Indigenous languages and appreciate aspects of enduring value in their traditional cultures? Of course. Should many of the students in these schools have had better housing, better food and better health care? Yes indeed.
Cheerful students at St. Anne’s Indian Residential School
But did employees in the church-run IRS schools subject the innocent children in their care to systematic torture and mass murder? Absolutely not. To insist otherwise is a vile lie or, at best, an ignorant smear spread by well-meaning people who have been taken in by anti-IRS propaganda.
Despite the countless number of base falsehoods spread about the IRS system and those who worked in it, leaders of the Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and United Churches have done nothing to defend the reputations of innocent, former IRS employees and to underline all the good works that these dedicated Christians performed to safeguard, educate and nurture IRS children.
A Sister of Charity with IRS students
Instead, what we get from Canada’s church leaders are extravagant apologies. In 2019, Fred Hiltz, then Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, expressed contrition for “spiritual harm” inflicted on IRS children. Last year, Pope Francis went so far as to join in the chorus of critics who falsely accuse the IRS system of perpetrating genocide.
That charge is nonsense. If Christians who worked in the IRS institutions were guilty of genocide, so were all Christian missionaries down through the centuries, including those who converted my Gaelic-speaking, Highland Scottish ancestors to Christianity and taught them to read, write and speak English.
To this day, Murray alleges that Christian employees of the IRS schools “perpetrated violence against Indigenous children that led to their deaths.” Yet neither she nor anyone else has ever come up with any proof, even on a balance of probabilities, that such infamous allegations contain any truth.
Regardless, no federal MPs are willing to set the record straight. And the same goes for almost all Christian clerics. That is disgraceful. Why do leaders of the Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and United Churches cower in silence instead of speaking up in defence of all the faithful IRS employees who are repeatedly vilified by hate-mongering, anti-Christian zealots?