WorldCanada lives commotion with a total of 1,100 remains located where there...

Canada lives commotion with a total of 1,100 remains located where there were boarding schools for indigenous children

More information

The Lower Kootenay Indian Reservation in Canada announced on Wednesday the discovery of 182 unidentified graves on the grounds where the St. Eugene’s Mission boarding school for Indian children was located in Cranbrook (eastern British Columbia province, 850 kilometers from Vancouver). The finding is in addition to two others carried out in recent weeks, and there are already more than 1,100 remains of indigenous minors found in the country.

“We believe that these 182 souls belong to the Ktunaxa nation, the neighboring First Nations and the Aqam community,” said Jason Louie Pierre, head of that reserve, in a statement. Louie Pierre added that his community “has survivors from the St. Eugene’s Mission school,” so he asks the general public to respect these tough times. A hundred children belonging to this indigenous community were forced to live in that educational center.

The former boarding school at St. Eugene’s Mission operated from 1912 to 1970. It was administered by Catholic congregations and received 5,000 minors from native groups in British Columbia and Alberta. The institution was part of a network of 139 boarding schools that operated in Canada between 1883 and 1996 to assimilate these minors into the dominant culture. A commission created to investigate what happened in these places delivered in 2015 a report which concluded that it was a “cultural genocide”. Several testimonies indicate that physical punishment, sexual violence, neglect, professional exploitation and racism were common in these institutions financed by the Canadian government and administered by religious groups (more than 70% of them Catholics).

Many of these children never returned to their communities. The commission determined in 2019 that at least 4,134 minors died in these centers. Other experts estimate that the figure easily exceeds 6,000. Various illnesses, combined with an environment of abandonment, ended thousands of lives. Other deaths were due to fires and suicides. However, the causes remain a mystery in many cases.

A historic image of the Province of Saskatchewan, possibly dating from 1910, shows indigenous children and boarding school staff at Marieval Church. Locating remains in boarding schools is perplexing in Canada.PROVINCIAL ARCHIVES OF SASKATCHE / EFE

On May 27, Rosanne Casimir, head of the Tk’emlups te Secwépmc reserve, announced the discovery of the remains of 215 indigenous minors — some as young as three years old — on the grounds of the former boarding school at Kamloops, in the province of British Columbia. On June 24, Cadmus Delorme, head of the Cowessess reserve, reported the discovery of 751 unidentified tombs on grounds of the former Marieval boarding school (Saskatchewan province). “It’s not a mass grave; they are tombs without a name”, clarified Delorme, adding that the Catholic Church removed the tombstones in the 1960s.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement, on the occasion of the location of the first bodies, in which he assumed that Canada is responsible for the death of these children. “I know that this discovery only aggravates the pain that families, survivors and all indigenous communities already feel and reaffirms a truth they have known for a long time. Canada is responsible for the pain and trauma they feel,” said Trudeau. The Canadian Prime Minister added that “the discoveries of Marieval and Kamloops are part of a greater tragedy. They are a shameful reminder of the racism, discrimination and systemic injustice that indigenous peoples have faced and still face in this country.”

As in Kamloops and Marieval, the discovery at St. Eugene’s Mission was made possible by a georadar. The statement from the Lower Kootenay reserve said the tombs are shallow, going down to approximately one meter below ground. The leaders of that community have promised to release more details in the coming days. A few years after its closing, this former boarding school was transformed into a hotel and casino, with a golf course next door.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is the beginning of these discoveries. I urge all Canadians to join First Nations in demanding justice,” wrote Perry Bellegard, head of the Assembly of First Nations Canada, on Twitter. The findings in Kamloops and Marieval have sparked a wave of reactions so that the federal government provides all the help it can to find, identify and honor missing minors, one of the recommendations made by the commission in 2015. Likewise, the demands on the Catholic Church do not stop. Several voices demand that the Pope apologize for what happened in the boarding schools and that the Holy See cover the outstanding debts in terms of indemnities and open files to support the research.