Over 160 unmarked graves confirmed near site of Kuper Island Industrial School in BC

(July 14) – The Penelakut Tribe is one of six tribes of the Penelakut First Nation whose traditional territories include parts of southern Vancouver Island and of some of the southern Gulf islands in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland. On July 8 Penelakut Tribe Chief Joan Brown, Council and Elders issued an invitation to join in their work to raise awareness of the Kuper Island Industrial School and to inform people of the confirmation of more than 160 undocumented and unmarked graves near the site.

The Kuper Island Industrial School was one of five residential schools in the Vancouver Island region in which Indigenous children were imprisoned and mistreated and many died. On an island, which made escape next to impossible, the institution has been called “Canada’s Alcatraz” by survivors. Three of the other Vancouver Island schools were also on small islands. The school was opened in 1889 under Catholic Church Administration. Operations were taken over by the federal government in 1969 and it was closed in 1975 and has since been torn down. There are many documented stories of the physical and sexual abuse inflicted on the children, and of resistance. In 1896, UBC’s Indian Residential School and Dialogue Centre reports, the students set fire to the school when holidays were cancelled. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba lists the names of 120 students who died while attending the Kuper Island school, with the dates not known for 22, and reports that a survey carried out in 1896 revealed that out of 264 former students, 107 had died. In 1959 two sisters drowned while trying to escape.

The invitation from the Penelakut Tribe to neighbouring tribes and organizations, and to non-Indigenous allies to attend “to witness our truths” is printed below.

“To our neighbouring tribes and organizations,

Re: Kuper Island Industrial School

On behalf of the Penelakut Tribe, Chief Joan Brown and Council, and Elders, we are inviting you to join us in our work to raise awareness of the Kuper Island Industrial School, and Confirmation of the 160+ undocumented and unmarked graves in our grounds and foreshore.

We understand that many of our brothers and sisters from our neighbouring 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. 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. Courage is not the absence of fear, courage is acting in spite of fear.

Join us for our March for the Children, happening on August 2, 2021. Starting at 9:00 am at the Salish Sea Market in Chemainus. We will then march up Oak Street onto Willow Street to Waterwheel Park. Please sign waiver before the march. Waivers can be signed at 8:00 am at the Salish Sea Market.

We will also be hosting healing sessions at the Penelakut School gym. One will be July 28, 2021 from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm. Another session will be offered on August 4, 2021. Non-Indigenous allies are welcome to attend to witness our truths.

We know healing can’t happen in one day. There are many truths to be told and heard.


Joan Brown, Chief
Penelakut Tribe

Josh James, Band Manager
Penelakut Tribe

In The News, cpc.ml.ca

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Filed under Canada, History, Indigenous Peoples

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