17 graves found in the garden of a church boarding school in Canada

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17 graves found in the garden of a church boarding school in Canada

Photo: Archive

Seventeen unmarked graves have been discovered in the grounds of the former Alberni Indian Residential Church School on Canada’s Vancouver Island

The indigenous group known as the “First Nation” in Canada made a statement on the first results of the work carried out in the garden of the former Alberni Indian Residential Church School on Vancouver Island. In the statement, it was stated that 17 unmarked graves were found in the garden of the boarding school. It was stated that only 10 percent of the area has been scanned so far using ground penetrating radar and other tools, and that the graves are unregistered. It was also noted that there was evidence that 67 students had previously lost their lives at the school.

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First Nation official Ken Watts stated that although investigations are continuing, it is not possible to know the number of children who died at the school. Watts said, “We will never know the exact number of children who did not return home. However, as a community we are determined to uncover the truth. We need to remind the world that these are just children.”

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Opened in 1900, the Alberni Indian Church Boarding School was originally run by the Presbyterian Church. From 1925 to 1969, the school was under the auspices of the United Church of Canada, with children from nearly 100 communities attending. The school was taken over by the federal government in 1969 and closed in 1973 under pressure from First Nations authorities.

In Canada’s British Columbia province in May 2021, the remains of 215 children were found during ground-penetrating radar surveys at the Kamloops Indian Boarding School, which closed in 1978. Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs, stated that residential schools were part of a “shameful” colonial policy. On June 24, 2021, graves containing the remains of 751 children who were not in official records were found in the garden of the Marieval Church Boarding School in Sakatchewan province.

Again on June 30, 2021, 182 unmarked graves were found near the St. Eugene Mission School in the province of British Columbia. On July 13, 2021, the Penelakut Native Tribe on Penelakut Island, formerly known as “Kuper”, located among the Southern Gulf Islands, announced that more than 160 “undocumented and unmarked” graves were found in the area hosting the Kuper Island Boarding School. In the ongoing studies in the country, dozens of unmarked graves were found in 2022 on the lands where former boarding schools were located at different points.

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In Canada, residential schools were compulsory schools run by government and religious authorities to assimilate Indigenous youth in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Kamloops Indian Boarding School in Kamloops was known as the largest of the country’s Indian boarding school system. It opened in 1890 under Roman Catholic administration.

According to national studies, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in these schools between 1863 and 1998. The children were often not allowed to speak their own language or experience their own culture, and many were subjected to mistreatment and abuse. In 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established to document the effects of these practices, found that many indigenous children “never returned to their communities”. A landmark report published in 2015 stated that the system in schools amounted to “cultural genocide”. In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized to indigenous people for the system.

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