“Buried Bodies” Add New Dimension to Residential School Debate

By Clint Buehler

EDMONTON – An Aboriginal leader in Edmonton has added a new dimension to the residential school debate. “Hastily buried bodies” at residential schools has been alleged by Dean Brown, executive director of the Alberta Native Friendship Centres Association.

“Everybody I know who went to residential schools knows about those hushed-up deaths,” Brown told the daily Edmonton Sun

“You hear stories, oh my God, like babies being born and disposed of just because they were the result of sexual abuse,” Brown told the Sun’s Daniel MacIsaac.

MacIsaac writes in the Sun that Bob Watts, interim executive director of the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is preparing to launch hearings this year.

Watts has been reported as saying former students will testify about alleged “criminal deaths” at residential schools and that the RCMP should be ready to investigate.

Brown’s allegations have been refuted by Christian Selin, a spokesperson for the federal department of Residential Schools Resolution.

She says “there is no specific evidence of criminal deaths in Indian residential schools. “Any criminal investigations will be carried out by the police.”

Brown told the Sun a residential school led to the death of his own mother, Rita Cardinal, in Grouard, 366 km northwest of Edmonton, and argues that money is only part of the healing process.

“The amounts are ridiculous,” he says of the settlements, “:–$13,000 for being robbed of your family and culture. “That’s a drop in the bucket for the pain and abuse that goes through your whole life.”

MacIsaac quotes two other residential school survivors in support of Brown’s allegations. He writes that Ray Harris and George Muldoe were both taken from Hazelton, BC, to attend the Edmonton Residential School, and tell of their own traumatic experiences in the 1950s and 1960s.

As adolescents, they said, staff directed them to bury Aboriginals who had died of tuberculosis and other diseases at the Charles Camsell Hospital in Edmonton in unmarked graves on school grounds. According to the MacIsaac article in the Sun, Harris said, “I had no feeling after my first year there, so when I was asked to dig a grave I was actually glad because I knew the older boys got paid to do it.

“But one that was really, really disgusting to me when I finally got my senses back was a baby—because I dug a grave for a baby.

“I was the one who carried the baby from the car in a small coffin, and we buried it right behind the principal’s office with no markings whatsoever.

MacIsaac says that’s why Muldoe wants the hearings process to continue and the bodies to be exhumed, even if it is too late for most school or government officials to be held criminally responsible.

Muldoe says the families of those in unmarked graves, today’s Aboriginal youth and Canadians should know.

“Why should we do this?” he asked.

“To find out the truth, I guess—exactly what happened.”