More Than 160 Unmarked Grave Found On Penelakut Island In Canada

Canada, Catholic Church -

More Than 160 Unmarked Grave Found On Penelakut Island In Canada

The Penelakut Tribe in Canada, B.C.'s Southern Gulf Islands has found more than 160 "undocumented and unmarked" graves. They were found on the former grounds of the Catholic Church operated Kuper Island Residential School.

The Penelakut tribe informed neighbouring First Nations communities, "We are inviting you to join us in our work to raise awareness of the Kuper Island Industrial School, and confirmation of the 160+ undocumented and unmarked graves in our grounds and foreshore," No further details were provided. It is the latest of several similar findings concerning residential schools across Canada.


About Kuper Island Residential School

The Kuper Island Residential School, formerly referred to as “Canada’s Alcatraz”, operated from 1890 to the 1970s on Penelakut Island, formerly known as Kuper Island, which is one of the Southern Gulf Islands. It was run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia reported that more than 100 students died at the school between 1890 and 1966. At least two sisters drowned while trying to escape in 1959, and another student committed suicide in 1966.

The federal government took over the administration of the school in 1969 and closed it in 1975. At least one former employee admitted to three charges of indecent assault and gross indecency twenty years later. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba has records of 202 deaths of students at residential schools on Vancouver Island, including many from the Kuper Island school. First Nations survivors and researchers report greater a greater number of children died from neglect, tuberculosis, meningitis, fires, and injuries from beatings and rapes, and that their deaths were never recorded.


Community response

Penelakut Chief Joan Brown encouraged residential school survivors to heal in a newsletter, "It is impossible to get over acts of genocide and human rights violations. Healing is an ongoing process, and sometimes it goes well, and sometimes we lose more people because the burden is too great," Chief Joan Brown has also invited community members to participate in the March for the Children in Chemainus, B.C., on August 2 to remember the students who were forced to attend the Kuper Island Residential School and to move forward on the path to healing and reconciliation.


Government response

The British Columbia government said in June it is providing $12 million to support First Nations with investigative work at former residential school sites.

Ottawa has pledged further support for the identification and investigation of burial grounds near former residential schools after allocating $27 million in 2019. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference that the findings by the Penelakut Tribe deepen the pain of Indigenous people across Canada. He also claimed that the government is committed to informing the public about what happened in the residential schools. British Colombia's Premier John Horgan reported that he’s worked to reach out to First Nations groups to learn what can be done to help, and that the government will provide resources to affected communities.


What were Indian Residential Schools?

In Canada, the Indian residential school system was a network of at least 130 boarding schools set up to educate and subjugate Indigenous peoples. The residential school network was funded by the Canadian government's Department of Indian Affairs and administered by various churches. The Catholic Church has historically been heinous towards vulnerable people worldwide, has carried out gynocides and involved itself in multiple genocides, and has centuries of instances of abuse against women and children. 

Two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their home and families to erase their traditions and cultures and to ultimately assimilate them. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimates more than 150,000 children attended residential schools in Canada from the 1830s to 1996. Children at residential schools died at a far higher rate than those in the general population. In nearly a third of the deaths, the name of the child wasn’t recorded; nearly half did not list a cause of death. When the commission concluded in 2015, it had determined that at least 3,200 children died in residential schools. Since 2015, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has added 980 names to its memorial register which steadily keeps growing.


What's going on with the Kamloops case?

On Thursday, the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation near Kamloops, B.C., is expected to reveal further details of its recent discovery, on the grounds of another former residential school, of what were said to be the buried remains of an estimated 215 children.


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.

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