Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via Associated Press
CRANBRUK, BC – A search using ground-penetrating radar has found 182 human remains in unmarked graves at a site near a residential school formerly run by the Catholic Church, which housed the children of the residents, a group of Indigenous Canadians said Wednesday. Natives taken from their families.
The recent discovery of graves near Cranbrook, British Columbia, followed reports of similar finds at two other church-run schools, one of more than 600 unmarked graves and another of 215 bodies. Cranbrook is located 524 miles (843 kilometers) east of Vancouver.
The Lower Kootenay Division said in a press release that it began using the technology last year to research the site near the former Saint Eugene Mission School, which was run by the Catholic Church from 1912 until the early 1970s. She said the search had found the remains in unmarked graves, some about three feet deep.
The remains are believed to be of people from the gangs of the Ktunaxa nation, which includes the Lower Kootenay Division, and other nearby First Nation communities.
Lower Kootenai’s band leader Jason Lowe described the discovery as “very personal” because he had relatives who attended school.
“Let’s call this what it is,” Lowe told CBC Radio in an interview. “It’s a mass murder of indigenous people.”
“The Nazis were held accountable for their war crimes. I don’t see any difference in locating the priests, nuns and brothers responsible for this mass crime to be held accountable for their role in this attempted genocide of an indigenous people.”
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Aboriginal children were forced to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools in an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society. Thousands of children died there from disease and other causes, and many never returned to their families.
Nearly three-quarters of the 130 boarding schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary groups, with others run by the Presbyterian and Evangelical Church and the United Church of Canada, which is today the largest Protestant denomination in the country.
The Canadian government has acknowledged that physical and sexual abuse is rampant in schools, where students have been beaten for speaking their native languages.
Last week, investigators found “600” unmarked graves at the site of the former Marival Indian Residential School, located 85 miles (135 kilometers) east of Saskatchewan’s capital, Regina.
Last month, the remains of 215 children, some as young as 3 years old, were found buried at a site that was once Canada’s largest residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia.
Before announcing the latest discoveries, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had asked that the national flag be kept on the Peace Tower halfway for Canada Day on Thursday to honor Aboriginal children who died in boarding schools.
On Tuesday, it was announced that a group of indigenous leaders will visit the Vatican later this year to press for a papal apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in boarding schools.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said Indigenous leaders will visit the Vatican December 17-20 to meet with Pope Francis and “promote meaningful encounters for dialogue and healing.”
After the tombs were found in Kamloops, the Pope expressed his pain over the discovery and pressured religious and political authorities to highlight “this sad issue.” But he did not offer the apology requested by the First Nations and the Canadian government.
The leader of one of Canada’s largest indigenous groups has said there are no guarantees that an Aboriginal delegation traveling to the Vatican will lead to an apology from Pope Francis in Canada.
First Nations National President Perry Bellegaard confirmed that assembly representatives will join Mtesi and Inuit leaders on a trip to the Vatican in late December.
“There are no guarantees of any kind of apology” from the Pope,” Belgaard said.
“The Anglican Church has apologized,” he told a virtual news conference. “The Presbyterian Church has apologized. The United Church has apologized.”
“This is really part of the truth and part of the healing and reconciliation process for survivors to hear an apology from the highest office in the Roman Catholic Church, which is the Pope.”
Lowe said he wanted concrete action more than an apology.
“I’m really done with the government and the churches saying they’re sorry,” he said. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
The papal apology was one of 94 recommendations from the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but the Canadian Bishops Conference said in 2018 that the pope could not apologize in person for boarding schools.
Since the discovery of unmarked graves on former residential school sites, several church fires have broken out across Canada. There were also some acts of vandalism targeting churches and statues in cities.
Suspicious fires have destroyed four small Catholic churches on Aboriginal lands in rural southern British Columbia, and a vacant former Anglican church in northwest British Columbia has also been damaged in what the Royal Canadian Mounted Police described as a possible arson.
Alberta’s premier on Wednesday denounced what he called the “burning of Christian churches” after a historic diocese was destroyed in a fire.
“Today in Maureenville, the Glaze de Saint-Jean-Baptiste was destroyed in what appears to be a criminal act of arson,” Kenney said in a statement.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said officers were called to the suspicious fire at the church in Moraineville, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Edmonton, in the early hours of Wednesday.
Trudeau and an Indigenous leader said arson and vandalism on churches are not the way to achieve justice after the unmarked graves were discovered.
“The destruction of places of worship is unacceptable and must stop,” Trudeau said. “We must work together to right the wrongs of the past.
Belgaard said burning churches is not the way forward.
He said, “I can understand the frustration, the anger, the pain and the pain, no doubt.” But burning things is not our way. ″