Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church, Camperville, Manitoba. Google street view

No bodies discovered in Manitoba excavation

  • August 23, 2023

Fourteen anomalies discovered by ground-penetrating radar in a Manitoba church basement are not human remains, an excavation has discovered.

Minegoziibe Anishinabe, also known as the Pine Creek First Nation, carried out the excavation in the basement of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church. Animal bones and debris from a fire were among items discovered, but no human remains, Chief Derek Nepinak told media.

The reserve’s school was run by the Catholic Church between 1890 and 1969. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has records of 21 student deaths at the Pine Creek School.

The ground-penetrating radar had revealed 57 other anomalies on the grounds around the church and the old school site. The community is now discussing if further excavation needs to be done.

“We don’t know if those will require excavation or not, they might but it’s going to be up to the community and the elders to give us direction on what our next steps are going to be,” said Nepinak.

Voices within the Church are starting to ask for proof of bodies that have been discovered over the past few years using ground-penetrating radar. The first discovery, of 215 alleged bodies at a former Kamloops, B.C., residential school, set off a reckoning among Canadians and Catholics in particular for past roles in abuse at the former residential schools. It also saw a number of announcements from First Nations across Canada claiming to have found potential unmarked graves.

Leading the charge in seeking proof is Bishop emeritus Fred Henry of Calgary. In an email to The Catholic Register from a Calgary hospital bed, Henry asked: “Why is the Catholic Church not asking the federal government for proof that even one residential child is actually missing in the sense that his (or) her parents didn’t know what happened to their child at the time of the child’s death?“

Henry came to The Register and a former Register columnist who has challenged political accounts of residential school history after not receiving a response from his brother bishops to a similar query in late June.

However, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith and Regina Archbishop Don Bolen, who have been leadership voices on Indigenous reconciliation, say the bishops as a group have chosen to listen rather than respond to every event and demand arising from the process.

“We made a pledge long ago as bishops to make records available to look into the truth of things, and we are happy and very ready to help the Indigenous peoples tell their story. That is our focus right now. Let’s see this process finish. Once you have a finished process, you are in a better position to assess it overall and make whatever statements might be necessary,” Smith told The Catholic Register.

Beyond the Church, journalists such as National Post columnist Terry Glavin, independent researcher Nina Green and former Manitoba provincial court judge Brian Giesbrecht have sounded a similar trumpet to Henry in denoting narrative anomalies and disturbing exaggerations in reports of missing and murdered Indigenous children.

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