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Six things the media got wrong about the graves found near Residential Schools

When it comes to the coverage of graves identified near residential schools in three First Nations communities, the legacy media in Canada has done a tremendous disservice to all Canadians – especially First Nations. 


They have created a moral panic, and continue to fan the flames of racial division.


This panic came to a breaking point over the weekend, when prominent statues were knocked over and at least 25 churches in Western Canada were either vandalized or completely burnt down. 


To make matters worse, several prominent commentators, including politicians, journalists, professors, lawyers and activists, excused the behaviour of the mob, explained away and justified these riots, and in some cases, even cheered them on. 


“Burn it all down,” said the head of the BC Civil Liberties Association, once the country’s strongest voice for protecting the rule of law and civil liberties.


Likewise, the Chair of the Newfoundland Canadian Bar Association Branch said “Burn it all down”


Or how about this, from a radio host in St. John New Brunswick:


“Burn the churches down. Arrest any former staff that were actually there and any current staff that won’t provide documentation. Sell everything they own in Canada and give it to survivors. Dismantle it completely.”


Not to be outdone, NDP MP Niki Ashton cheered on the mob who toppled statues at the Manitoba legislature but calling it “decolonization” and saying there is “no pride in genocide.” 


Finally, Justin Trudeau’s top advisor and best friend Gerald Butts said that burning churches isn’t cool, but it “may be understandable.”


How did we get here as a country? 


Here are the six ways the legacy media in Canada got this story wrong. 


1. Unverified Reports

It is standard practice in journalism to clarify whether or not an allegation has been proven, in court or otherwise. But when the Tk’emlups band issued a press release stating that they had used ground penetrating radar to locate 215 unmarked graves, the media accepted the story without question or any verification. 


The band said a report was forthcoming in mid-June – but no report has been released to date. No evidence of any sort has been put forth for public consideration. We don’t know who carried out the research, whether it was a company or a university, or how the technology was used. At this point, we have a few claims, and nothing else. 


This may be a minor point, but it’s an important distinction nonetheless. 



2. What exactly was “discovered”?

There has been incredible confusion over what exactly was discovered, and media outlets have used tremendous liberty in describing what the bands have claimed. 


JJ McCullough has made this point on Twitter, showing all the various ways the media have described what was discovered. 



The first nation band leaders say they used ground penetrating radar. 


To be clear: nothing was “uncovered.” No “bodies” were found. There was no excavation, nothing was unearthed, nothing was removed, no identities were confirmed.


So anything you may have read saying these graves belong to children, including some specific claims about the ages of these children, is speculation at this point. 


Let me refer back to a National Post story that explains what ground penetrating radar actually does. They interviewed a professor of Anthropology who is also the director of the Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology. She said this of ground penetrating radar:


“It doesn’t actually see the bodies. It’s not like an X-ray.” 


“What it actually does is it looks for the shaft. When a grave is dug, there is a grave shaft dug and the body is placed in the grave, sometimes in a coffin, as in the Christian burial context. What the ground-penetrating radar can see is where that pit itself was dug, because the soil actually changes when you dig a grave. And occasionally, if it is a coffin, the radar can pick up the coffin sometimes as well.”


We’re talking about pretty rudimentary technology here, and a relatively imprecise process. The numbers are more or less a rough estimate. 


So why have media reports been so bold in asserting these numbers as facts? 



3. We don’t know whose graves were discovered

The Tk’emlups band claimed the graves belonged to children at the school. So when the second two bands (Cowessess and Lower Kootaney) came forth with their own claims, many in the media jumped to the conclusion that these too were the graves of children from residential schools. 


But that wasn’t the claim made by the bands. In fact, in both Cowessess and Lower Kootaney, the graves are believed to be in community cemeteries, belonging to both First Nations and the broader Canadian community. 


Tucked away at the very end of a report in the Globe and Mail on the findings at the Cowessess reserve in Saskatchewan, it said this: 


“It appears that not all of the graves contain children’s bodies, Lerat (who is one of the band leaders) said. He said the area was also used as a burial site by the rural municipality.


“We did have a family of non-Indigenous people show up today and notified us that some of those unmarked graves had their families in them – their loved ones,” Lerat said.”


So what we have here is an abandoned community cemetery, where people of different backgrounds were buried. 


That’s quite a leap from the original storyline that these graves belong


 to children who had died at a residential school. 


4. NOT mass graves

These are not mass graves. Several media outlets, both in Canada and international outlets like the BBC, Al Jazeera, the New York Times and the Washington Post have recklessly and erroneously labeled these findings as mass graves. 


This is incredibly irresponsible. 


All three chiefs themselves have explicitly stated these are not mass graves. 
Read More Here: True North
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