A Canadian indigenous group said Wednesday that a search using ground-penetrating radar found 182 human remains in unmarked graves at a site near a former Catholic Catholic school that housed indigenous children taken from their families.
The latest tomb discovery near Cranbrook, British Columbia follows reports of similar finds at two other such church-run schools, one of more than 600 unmarked tombs and another of 215 corpses. Cranbrook is located 524 miles (843 kilometers) east of Vancouver.
For all the latest news, follow the Daily Star’s Google News channel.
The Lower Kootenay Group said in a press release that it began using the technology last year to search the site near the former St. Eugene Mission School, which operated from the Catholic Church from 1912 to the early 1970s. The search found the remains in unmarked tombs, about 3 feet deep.
The remains are believed to be those of people from the Ktunaxa nation complex, which includes the Lower Kootenay complex, and other neighboring First Nation communities.
Bottom line leader Jason Louie called the discovery “deeply personal” as he had relatives at school.
“Let’s say this about what it is,” Louie told CBC Radio in an interview. “It is a mass murder of natives.”
“The Nazis were held responsible for their war crimes. I see no difference in identifying the priests and monks and brothers responsible for this mass murder to take part in this attempted genocide of the natives.”
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Native 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 illness and other causes, and many never returned to their families.
Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary churches, while others were operated by the Presbyterian, Anglican, and United Church of Canada, now the largest Protestant denomination in the country.
The Canadian government has acknowledged that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in schools, with students being beaten for speaking their mother tongue.
Last week, the Cowessess First Nation, about 85 miles (135 kilometers) east of the Saskatchewan capital of Regina, said investigators had found “at least 600” unmarked graves at the site of a former Marieval Indian school.
Last month, the wreckage of 215 children, some as young as three, was found buried in what was once Canada’s largest indigenous school near Kamloops, British Columbia.
Prior to the news of the latest finding, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had asked the national flag at the Peace Tower to remain halfway through Canada Day on Thursday to honor Indigenous children who died in residential schools.
On Tuesday, it was announced that a group of indigenous leaders would visit the Vatican later this year to press for a papal apology for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in residential schools.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that indigenous leaders will visit the Vatican from December 17 to 20 to meet with Pope Francis and “promote substantive dialogue and healing.”
After the tombs were found in Kamloops, the Pope expressed his sorrow for the discovery and pressed religious and political authorities to shed light on this sad case. But he did not apologize to the First Nations and the Canadian government.
The leader of one of Canada’s largest indigenous groups says there is no guarantee that an indigenous delegation traveling to the Vatican will lead Pope Francis to apologize to Canada.
First National Assembly leader Perry Bellegarde has confirmed that members of the assembly will join the Metis and Inuit leaders who will travel to the Vatican in late December.
“There are no guarantees of any apology πα from the Pope,” Belgard 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 the survivors to hear the apology from the highest position of the Roman Catholic Church, which is the Pope.”
Louis said he wanted more concrete action than an apology.
“I’m really done with the government and the churches saying they’m sorry,” he said. “Justice delays denying justice.”
Papal apology was one of the 94 recommendations of the Canada Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but the Canadian Bishops’ Conference said in 2018 that the Pope could not personally apologize for the home schools.
Since the discovery of unmarked graves on the sites of former residential schools, there have been numerous church fires across Canada. There has also been vandalism targeting churches and statues in cities.
Four small catholic churches in indigenous areas of rural southern British Columbia have been destroyed by suspected fires and an empty former Anglican church in northwestern BC. recently suffered damage to what the RCMP said could be arson.
On Wednesday, Alberta’s prime minister condemned what he called “arson attacks on Christian churches” following the destruction of a historic parish in a fire.
“Today in Morinville, the l’église de Saint-Jean-Baptiste was destroyed in an apparent criminal act of arson,” Kenney said in a statement.
The RCMP said officers were called to the suspected church fire in Morinville, about 40 miles (25 miles) north of Edmonton, in the early hours of Wednesday.
Trudeau and an indigenous leader said arson and vandalism targeting churches was not the way to justify their discovery of unmarked graves.
“The destruction of places of worship is unacceptable and must stop,” Trudeau said. “We must work together to correct the mistakes of the past.”
Belgard said burning churches is not the way to go.
“I can understand the frustration, the anger, the pain and the pain, there is no doubt,” he said. “But burning things is not our way.”