182 unmarked graves found at boarding school in western Canada

At least 182 unmarked graves near a former boarding school for Indigenous children was found in western Canada, the latest such discovery in recent weeks.

The Lower Kootenay Band said on Wednesday that experts used ground penetrating radar mapping to locate what are believed to be the remains of Indigenous children between the ages of seven and 15 at St Eugene’s Mission School near Cranbrook, British Columbia.

The institution, which Indigenous children were forced to attend in a state effort to assimilate them into Canadian society, was run by the Catholic Church and operated from 1890 until 1970, according to the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.

The search of the grounds began last year, the band said in a statement, and the children are believed to be members of bands of the Ktunaxa Nation, which includes the Lower Kootenay and other neighbouring Indigenous communities.

Hundreds of unmarked graves have been uncovered in at least three other residential schools in Canada in recent weeks, plunging Indigenous communities that had known for decades about deaths at the institutions into a sense of renewed grief and anguish.

Canada’s residential school system operated from the late 1800s until the 1990s. It was part of a wider colonial project that aimed to take over Indigenous lands and forcibly assimilate First Nation, Metis and Inuit children. Various churches, including most notably the Roman Catholic Church, ran at least 139 residential schools across Canada, and thousands of Indigenous children are believed to have died while attending the institutions.

Late last month, 215 Indigenous children’s remains were found at Kamloops Indian Residential School in BC, while as many as 751 unmarked graves were discovered at Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan last week.

Chief Jennifer Bone of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, in the central province of Manitoba, also said this month that the community believes 104 potential graves exist in three cemeteries at the site of the Brandon Residential School.

The discoveries have led to growing calls for accountability from the federal government and the Catholic Church.

Indigenous leaders are demanding an apology from Pope Francis and for the church to release all its records related to the institutions. They are also calling for adequate financial support to help fund searches on residential school grounds, for criminal charges to be laid against anyone found responsible for crimes committed, and for a thorough investigation to be launched.