A First Nation in B.C.’s South Interior says 182 unmarked gravesites have been discovered near the location of a former residential school.
The community of ʔaq’am, one of four bands in the Ktunaxa Nation and located near the city of Cranbrook, B.C., used ground-penetrating radar to search a site close to the former St. Eugene’s Mission School, the Lower Kootenay Band announced Wednesday.
According to the band, the findings indicated the graves were shallow, about a metre deep.
“You can never fully prepare for something like this,” said Chief Jason Louie of the Lower Kootenay Band, which is a member of the Ktunaxa Nation.
The finding adds to the growing tally of unmarked burial sites discovered near residential schools across Canada in the past month, including 215 in Kamloops and 751 in Saskatchewan.
St. Eugene’s Mission School was operated by the Catholic Church from 1912 until the early 1970s. The building has since been converted into a resort and casino, with an adjacent golf course.
The Lower Kootenay Band says up to 100 of its members were forced to attend the school.
“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 ʔaq’am,” read a media release from the band.
Louie said the nation’s leadership met with residential school survivors in the community before announcing the discovery and referred them to support.
“It’s very difficult,” he said. “It was very impactful when we got the news of the 215 souls that were located in Kamloops. And now it’s very, very personal.”
The band says it is in the early stages of learning about the report’s findings and will provide more updates.
Louie said he received an email last week from Chief Joe Pierre Jr. of the ʔaq’am community stating a survey of the grounds had started in 2020.
“I did not know this work was being done,” Louie said. “We do have an understanding and I have spoken with Chief Joe that we’re going to improve the lines of communication.”
Pierre said the ʔaq’am band would provide more details in a release later on Wednesday.
Louie said he wants the Catholic Church to be held legally accountable for operating the schools.
“We were robbed of future elders,” he said.
“Those children, if they had not passed away, could have been elders and teachers in our communities, the keepers of knowledge. It’s devastating.”
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