A First Nation in Canada has confirmed another 160 unmarked graves—possibly more—near a former residential school, marking the latest news in what’s expected to be an ongoing series of painful discoveries.
On July 8, Penelakut Tribe in south-western British Columbia issued a statement on behalf of Chief Joan Brown, council, and elders that says the “160+ undocumented and unmarked graves” were found the the former Kuper Island Indian Industrial School grounds. The Catholic-run school operated from 1890 to the 1970s.
Penelakut’s statement didn’t say whether ground-penetrating radar was used to locate the graves and whether the remains are of children. But it acknowledged the grief and trauma associated with the news and caused by Canada’s residential school system, used to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children, and its ongoing legacy. It also encouraged healing and offered two healing sessions and a march.
“We are at another point in time where we must face the trauma because of these acts of genocide,” the statement says.
Penelakut Tribe informed neighbouring communities whose members and families were forced to attend the institution.
Since May, more than 1,000 unmarked graves have been confirmed at former residential schools, with the first 215 reported by a First Nation in British Columbia. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said most of the remains were likely of children, some as young as 3, and the news triggered nationwide mourning, searches for more sites just like it, and unprecedented mainstream attention paid to Canada’s horrific colonial history and its ongoing legacy.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is releasing more information about its findings on Thursday, including details about the ground-penetrating radar used to search the grounds at the former Catholic-run Kamloops Indian Residential school.
Sites in Manitoba and Saskatchewan have also been confirmed, with Cowessess First Nation reporting 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Residential School, also headed by Catholics. It’s the largest unmarked gravesite announced so far.
Residential schools were used by the Canadian government to forcibly assimilate 150,000 Inuit, First Nations, and Métis children. More than half were run by Catholics. Sweeping abuses were common, and children were routinely punished for speaking their languages and expressing their cultures. Malnutrition and disease were also widespread.
Former Kuper Island employee Glenn Doughty alone was convicted of 46 sex-related offences after working at Kuper Island Residential School and elsewhere. But the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the residential school system and its aftermath, identified fewer than 50 convictions for abuse committed at residential schools between 2007 and 2015—compared to more than 38,000 reports of sexual or severe physical abuse.
Now, people are demanding more, with many calling for Canada and the Catholic Church to face criminal trials for crimes against humanity and genocide.
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Anyone experiencing distress or pain as a result of residential schools can call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419). It’s available 24/7.