An archival photo of the St Eugene's residential school in British Columbia, Canada | Credits: Indian Residential School History & Dialogue Centre, University of British Columbia
An archival photo of the St Eugene's residential school in British Columbia, Canada | Credits: Indian Residential School History & Dialogue Centre, University of British Columbia
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New Delhi: An indigenous community in western Canada has found 182 unmarked graves on the grounds of a former residential school near the city of Cranbrook in British Columbia. This is the third such discovery in the country in just over a month.

The Lower Kootenay Band, a First Nations community, detected the remains, most likely of indigenous children, using a ground-penetrating radar at what used to be the St Eugene’s Mission residential school Wednesday.

The residential school system, which operated from the 1880s to the late 1990s, was set up by the Canadian government and administered by Catholic churches to forcibly assimilate indigenous children into society.

Indigenous leaders have long sought an apology for the Catholic Church’s role in operating such residential schools. In response, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) Wednesday said Pope Francis has agreed to meet them at the Vatican.

In a statement, the CCCB said Pope Francis is “deeply committed to…addressing the impact of colonization and the role of the Church in the residential school system, in the hopes of responding to the suffering of Indigenous Peoples and the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma”.

In Canada, the term ‘Indigenous peoples’ (or Aboriginal peoples) refers to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples

Some of the graves found at St Eugene’s Mission residential school were as shallow as three to four feet.

“It is believed that the remains of these 182 souls are from the member Bands of the Ktunaxa Nation, neighbouring First Nations communities and the community of Aq’am,” the Lower Kootenay band said in a statement.

St Eugene’s Residential school was founded in 1890 and became an industrial school in 1912.

It was run by the Catholic Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which operated 48 such other schools. It is a missionary congregation of the Catholic Church, which was launched in 1816 by a French priest called Saint Eugène de Mazenod.

In the past month, two other sites with hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered on the grounds of former residential schools.

On 1 June, the remains of 215 children were found at the site of what used to be one of Canada’s biggest residential schools, Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Later, on 25 June, the remains of at least 751 people, mostly indigenous children, were found on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian residential school at Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.

Both these schools were also operated by the Catholic Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.


Also read: 215 kids’ bodies unearthed in Canada: A look at its indigenous people, residential school system


Pope Francis to meet indigenous leaders in Vatican

The residential school system in Canada forcibly separated lakhs of indigenous children from their families to assimilate them into the Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of living. They were forbidden to acknowledge their indigenous heritage and culture or to speak their own languages.

The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up in 2008 by the Canadian government, collected and compiled testaments from 6,750 witnesses to document the history of Canada’s residential school system for six years, terming it a form of “cultural genocide”.

They also confirmed that these schools were buffeted by disease outbreaks and children allegedly faced regular sexual, physical and emotional abuse and violence.

Meanwhile, in response to indigenous leaders’ long-sought apology for the Catholic Church’s role in operating these residential schools, the CCCB Wednesday announced that Pope Francis has finally agreed to meet them at the Vatican.

It has taken two years for Canada’s Indigenous community to schedule this meeting with the pope, who even rejected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s direct request urging him to apologise to the community in 2017.

“The Bishops of Canada are deeply appreciative of the Holy Father’s spirit of openness in generously extending an invitation for personal encounters with each of the three distinct groups of delegates – First Nations, Métis, and Inuit – as well as a final audience with all delegates together on 20 December 2021,” the CCCB statement read.

According to the statement, Pope Francis will have personal interactions with three distinct groups of delegates – First Nations, Métis, and Inuit – as well as a final audience with all delegates together on 20 December 2021.


Also read: On Slave Trade Remembrance Day, a look at how world has confronted legacy of slavery, racism


 

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