Two years after alarms were raised in Canada by the reported discovery of graves of indigenous children on the grounds of a former Catholic boarding school, the investigation found no human remains in the alleged mass graves.
A series of cases exposed in 2021 opened a wound of the past for Canadian society and encouraged protests and destruction against the country's historical and Catholic heritage. The results of archaeological research at one of the sites now show that it may have all been a hoax.
No bodies in Pine Creek
In May 2022, a series of anomalies were located in the basement of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church near the Pine Creek Indian Residential School. With the help of a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) search conducted by AltoMaxx, the Minegoziibe Anishinabe Nation, formerly known as Pine Creek, claimed that there were as many as 71 anomalies under the grounds of the Indian boarding school.
For four weeks this summer, members of the indigenous nation carried out excavations in search of the remains but found nothing. The nation and its experts excavated in 14 different sites.
The head of the Indian nation, Derek Nepinak, announced the results of the investigation to the Canadian press. Despite the outcome of the excavation, the Indian chief says that this does not take “nothing away from the difficult truths experienced by our families who attended the residential school in Pine Creek.” Nepinak referred to the stories of mistreatment in boarding schools reported by the former students of these schools owned by the Canadian government and commonly operated by the Catholic Church.
MANITOBA—Chief Derek Nepinak of the Minegoziibe Anishinabe has announced excavations under a Catholic Church concluded with NO EVIDENCE OF HUMAN REMAINS.
Accusations of former students claimed Church Resident Schools covered up abuse and deaths of indigenous children.
— Bree A Dail (@breeadail) August 21, 2023
In the absence of evidence of human remains on the school grounds, the New York Post consulted Jacques Rouillard, professor emeritus in the Department of History at the University of Montreal. “I don’t like to use the word hoax because it’s too strong but there are also too many falsehoods circulating about this issue with no evidence,” the professor said in his statements.
Accusations without evidence
The accusations of which Rouillard speaks are those that led in 2021 to a wave of controversies and attacks against the Canadian government as well as the Catholic Church and its believers. Then, the chiefs of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc indigenous nation assured that the bodies of 215 minors were underground in the grounds near the Indian boarding school in Kamloops, British Columbia. The justification for such a statement was the same as that of Pine Creek: ground-penetrating radar.
Rouillard wrote an article in the Dorchester Review in 2022 in which he recalled the danger of believing such claims without waiting for the results of the excavations. "By never pointing out that it is only a matter of speculation or potentiality, and that no remains have yet been found, governments and the media are simply granting credence to what is really a thesis: the thesis of the 'disappearance' of children from residential schools," he wrote.
However, excavations at Kamloops have not yet begun, although the chiefs of the Indian nation announced that they would happen soon. Therefore, the assumption that there are human remains under the Kamloops school has not yet been proven. Based on Kamloops' claims, tests were carried out in several other Indian boarding schools that concluded that about 3,000 children's bodies could be beneath the schools. However, since 2021, only two bodies have been confirmed to have been found in two different schools.
Attacks on Catholics
Despite the lack of proof of the existence of human remains, Canadian society pointed the finger at the Catholic Church. After the Kamloops case came to light, at least 68 Christian churches were attacked across Canada. Most of them were Catholic.
A wave of vandalism driven by leftist protesters left 21 Christian churches burned by rioters. Another 28 were graffitied and vandalized and were investigated by the police.
The case of Kamloops provoked a strong response from the government of Justin Trudeau, who mobilized in favor of the claims, which his administration immediately took advantage of. Trudeau decreed, in part at the request of tribal leaders, that all flags on federal buildings be flown at half-staff. The Canadian government and provincial authorities pledged roughly $320 million to fund excavations.