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Graves found at former B.C. island residential school ‘deepens pain’ for survivors: PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will continue to work with Indigenous communities after more than 160 undocumented and unmarked graves were found on the site of a former residential school in B.C.

Trudeau reinforced his commitment at a news conference in Nova Scotia on Tuesday, one day after the country woke up to the news of the discovery by the Penelakut Tribe in the Southern Gulf Islands of B.C.

“I recognize these findings only deepen the pain that families, survivors and all Indigenous Peoples and communities are already feeling, and that they reaffirm a truth that they have long known,” he said. “To members of the Penelakut Tribe: we are here for you.

“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.”

On Thursday, the Penelakut Tribe issued a letter saying the graves were found on the grounds of the former Kuper Island Indian Industrial School, which was located on what is now known as Penelakut Island between Vancouver Island and mainland B.C.

“We understand that many of our brothers and sisters from our neighbouring communities attended the Kuper Island Industrial School,” the letter from Chief Joan Brown reads. “We also recognize with a tremendous amount of grief and loss, that too many did not return home.”

The Kuper Island Indian Industrial School was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1890 until 1969, when the federal government took it over. The school was closed in 1975 and the building was demolished in the 1980s.

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. The dates of death are not known for 22 of those students.

According to the centre, a survey carried out in 1896 found that out of 264 former students, 107 had died.

The news on Penelakut Island follows several similar discoveries on the grounds of former residential schools across Canada.

In May, the remains of what’s believed to be 215 children were found at the site of what was once the Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. That was followed in June by the discovery of hundreds of remains in Brandon, Man., Saskatchewan’s Cowessess First Nation and Cranbrook, B.C.

To date, the number of remains reported to be found across the country totals well over 1,000.

Some 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were forcibly sent to residential schools, where many suffered abuse. Ongoing research by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation shows at least 4,100 died in the schools amid neglect.

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