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Trudeau reaffirms support for First Nations in wake of B.C. residential school findings

Last Updated Jul 13, 2021 at 1:27 pm PDT

FILE - Kuper Island Residential School (Courtesy bcarchives.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca)

'My heart breaks for the Penelakut Tribe and all Indigenous communities across Canada,' Trudeau said Tuesday

Penelakut Tribe confirmed Monday more than 160 unmarked, undocumented graves at site of former residential school

Kuper Island Indian Residential School known as 'Canada's Alcatraz', with cases of children who died trying to escape

Emotional support or assistance for those who are affected by the residential school system can be found at Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free 1 (800) 721-0066 or 24 hr Crisis Line 1 (866) 925-4419.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The prime minister says confirmation of more than 160 unmarked, undocumented graves at the site of a former residential school on Penelakut Tribe territory near Vancouver Island is heartbreaking news.

Justin Trudeau addressed the finding on Tuesday, less than a day after it was announced.

“My heart breaks for the Penelakut Tribe and all Indigenous communities across Canada. I recognize these findings only deepen the pain that families, survivors, and all Indigenous peoples in communities are already feeling, and that they reaffirm a truth that they have long known,” he said, reiterating Canada’s commitment to support the Penelakut Tribe.

“We cannot bring back those who were lost, but we can and we will continue to tell the truth. Just like we will continue to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples to fight discrimination and systemic racism with real, concrete actions,” Trudeau added.

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The Kuper Island Indian Residential School, located off the coast of Cheamainus in the Southern Gulf Islands, operated between 1889 and 1975 and was run by the federal government and the Roman Catholic Church. The building was demolished in the 1980s and Kuper Island was renamed as Penelakut in 2010.

“We understand that many of our brothers and sisters from our neighboring communities attended the Kuper Island Industrial School. We also recognize with a tremendous amount of grief and loss, that too many did not return home,” reads a statement from Chief Joan Brown that was shared online by Cowichan Tribes.

“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. We are at another point in time where we must face the trauma because of these acts of genocide. Each time we do, it is possible to heal a little more.”

The institution was known as “Canada’s Alcatraz” because of its remote location, and because of documented cases of children who died trying to escape.

Confirmation of the unmarked, undocumented graves Monday came after similar discoveries were made at other sites in B.C. and Saskatchewan.

Calls continue for all former residential school sites to be searched. The United Nations is among those pressing for Canada to perform an exhaustive investigation into uncovering the remains of Indigenous children and adults at residential schools across the country.

In June, the federal government announced it would be letting First Nations communities know how they could access funding to conduct searches.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report on residential schools more than five years ago. The nearly 4,000-page account details the abuse inflicted on Indigenous children after they were taken forcibly from their families to institutions where they were forbidden to speak their language and punished brutally for any attempts to practise their culture. Physical and sexual abuse were rampant.

The commission identified the names or information of more than 4,100 children who died in the residential school system. The exact number remains unknown.