Statement: Discovery of unmarked graves at the site of the former Kuper Island Industrial School

NORTH COWICHAN, B.C.: The Municipality of North Cowichan is joining the Penelakut Tribe and neighbouring First Nations in expressing our profound sadness, grief, and anger at the confirmation of more than 160 undocumented and unmarked graves on their grounds and foreshore.

Though this news is shocking, it is not unexpected. Indigenous peoples have long known the horrific truth and legacy of Canada’s residential schools. Recent stories from the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation, Lower Kootenay Band, and Cowessess First Nation have all confirmed similar findings of unmarked graves at residential school sites in their territories. Six of the 94 calls to action of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission relate to identifying, locating, and documenting children that went missing or died while in the care of residential schools.

“On behalf of the Municipality of North Cowichan, I want to express my incredible sadness of news of the confirmation of these unmarked graves,” said Mayor Al Siebring. “The grief, ongoing pain, and trauma felt by survivors and families is enormous as these horrific truths of Canada’s past come to light. This news is a reminder that we must continue to acknowledge our past, better understand the racism and discrimination First Nations face, and to work toward reconciliation.”

The Penelakut Tribe is hosting a March for Children on August 2 beginning at 9am in Chemainus. Healing sessions at the Penelakut School gym on July 28 and August 4 are scheduled for Tribe members and neighbouring First Nations, and an invitation has been extended to non-Indigenous allies to witness their truths. Please see the Penelakut Tribe statement for details on these events.

We encourage anyone who is in need of support to contact the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066, or at the 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.