RCMP on Thursday confirmed they have been to the Kamloops residential school site where the remains of 215 children have been located — but stressed it is the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation that has ultimate authority over the discovery.

People are silhouetted as they walk past the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after gathering to honour the 215 children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility, in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021.

DARRYL DYCK - THE CANADIAN PRESS

People are silhouetted as they walk past the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after gathering to honour the 215 children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility, in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021.

RCMP on Thursday confirmed they have been to the Kamloops residential school site where the remains of 215 children have been located — but stressed it is the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation that has ultimate authority over the discovery.

The Kamloops residential school operated between 1890 and 1969 and was once the largest in Canada’s residential school system; there were as many as 500 students registered at its peak. The federal government took over the facility’s operation from the Catholic Church and ran it as a day school until it closed in 1978.

It was the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, the home community of the school, that revealed last week that new, ground-penetrating radar technology had been able to confirm the remains of the children, whose deaths are believed to be undocumented.

News that the RCMP were involved on the site was mentioned in remarks given by former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Murray Sinclair to the House of Commons, who said Thursday he was concerned the police were using “intimidation.”

“I understand in B.C. — I got a call earlier this morning, in fact — that the RCMP now have declared that there is a major investigation that is going to occur into the bodies that have been located in Kamloops and they are now beginning to question those who have made this story available,” Sinclair told the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

“I think we need to have a discussion with the police in terms of how they are handling it. They should not be pursuing those who have revealed information.”

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the RCMP's involvement, but forwarded information about a virtual news conference Friday.

In a statement, Bill Wallace, the Detachment Commander with the Tk’emlúps Rural RCMP, said the RCMP was only playing a supportive role in the discovery.

“The Tk’emlúps Rural RCMP has attended the site, participated in meetings, and will continue working closely with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc community leaders in determining the next steps and the best way to be involved in any investigative avenues explored going forward,” reads a portion of the statement.

“Following a meeting with Band officials on May 31, the RCMP confirmed that the Band remains as the lead Official at this time, and that the RCMP will continue to support the Band in determining next steps.”

Some Indigenous people had expressed suspicion over the RCMP’s involvement.

The RCMP, whose origins as a national police force were in part borne of the government’s wish to suppress Indigenous peoples in Canada’s West, have a history of enforcing mandatory residential school policies — including by taking children away from their families to the schools.

The RCMP have acknowledged their role in enforcing the residential school system and issued apologies in both 2004 and 2014.

With files from Douglas Quan and Omar Mosleh


The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of a residential school experience. Support is available at 1-866-925-4419.