WARNING: Some details in this story may be disturbing to some people.
There has been another discovery of human remains in unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in B.C.
The Lower Kootenay Band confirmed Wednesday that ground-penetrating radar revealed 182 human remains in unmarked graves at the site of the old St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School in Cranbrook, B.C.
The band said some of the remains were buried in shallow graves only three and four feet deep and estimate they are from the member bands of the Ktunaxa Nation, neighbouring First Nations communities and the community of ʔaq̓am.
All children living in the area between the ages of seven and 15 were mandated by law to attend the school where the band said many “received cruel and sometimes fatal treatment.” It estimates that about 100 Lower Kootenay Band members attended St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School.
According to the Ktunaxa Nation, the residential school operated for 60 years between 1910 and 1970 but a school first opened on the site in 1890. Thousands of children attended the school.
The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre say there were recurring outbreaks of influenza, mumps, measles, chickenpox, and tuberculosis at the school.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports the Canadian government was responsible for funding the school, which was managed and operated by the Catholic Church from 1890 to 1970.
It was managed by the Sisters of Charity of the House of Providence of Montreal from 1890 to 1929, then the Oblates of Mary Immaculate from 1929 to 1970 and was operated by the Department of Indian Affairs for its final year of operation.
In 2000 the site reopened as the St. Eugene Resort, within the Ktunaxa Community of ʔaq̓am, near Cranbrook, B.C.
The search of the grounds around and near the former school took place in 2020.
The finding follows the discovery of the estimated remains of 215 people at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops and an estimated 751 unmarked graves at the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the discovery in Cranbrook is further confirmation of what residential school survivors have been saying for years.
“This is a validation of what the survivors have been saying, that there are unmarked graves and that there has been death in these institutions,” he said at a virtual news conference Wednesday.
He went on to say each of the 139 former residential school sites across the country needs to be investigated properly.
“The whole system of residential schools was a genocide, I’ve called it that,” he said. “We see the intergenerational trauma and feel the effects to this day.”
Bellegarde said Wednesday that a delegation from Canada will visit the Vatican in December to press for a papal apology for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools, where around 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were sent.
“The Anglican Church has apologized. The Presbyterian Church has apologized. United Church has apologized,” he said.
“This is really part of truth and part of the healing and reconciliation process for survivors to hear the apology from the highest position within the Roman Catholic Church, which is the pope.”
Recent incidents of arson and vandalism targeting churches are not the way to proceed, Bellegarde said.
“I can understand the frustration, the anger, the hurt and the pain, there’s no question,” he said. “But to burn things down is not our way. Our way is to build relationships and come together.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the destruction of places of worship “unacceptable.”
“We must work together to right past wrongs,” he said.
— With files from The Canadian Press
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.