- Darius Brooks
- BBC News World
To get to or from the Industrial School, a ship was needed.
The intership, led for eight decades by the Church catolic with government funding, it was in the Cooper Island and the nearest town was Chemainus, 7 km on another island in the archipelago west of Vancouver, Canada.
Two sisters drowned while trying to escape from school in 1959. But there were so many student deaths there that no one knows for sure if there were more attempts with the same result.
The boarding school was opened in 1889 and throughout almost a century of operation dozens of children died, many of them being buried in graves that never bore his nameni they had a mark.
On July 13, the Penelakut tribe announced the discovery – in a preliminary way, as the exact number has yet to be determined – of at least 160 burials, which add up to more than 1,100 to be They found in other boarding schools for indigenous children across Canada.
A scandal that has hit the Canadian government and the Vatican for years and that in recent months has been described as an “indigenous genocide.”
Today the Industrial School of Kuper Island no longer exists. It was demolished in 1980.
But what happened on that island shows the assimilation, violence, abuse sexual and deaths without registration thousands of indigenous children taken from their homes from a very young age were victims.
“The damage caused by the Indigenous Residential School system, individual and systemic violence, persists a long time in the present. The trauma is intergenerational and the indigenous landscapes of this country are populated by the burials of disappeared children”, tells BBC Mundo the anthropologist Eric Simons, who has worked with the Penelakut tribe on grave detection.
The “Alcatraz of Canada”
The Industrial School on Kuper Island has been called the “Alcatraz of Canada” because, as in the famous prison in California, it was practically impossible to escape from there.
The sisters Patricia Marilyn y Beverly Joseph (14 and 12 years old respectively) they tried in 1959 Y they drownedAccording to the documentation of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, which has 120 names of children killed in that school.
However, it is not really known if more children from the boarding school tried to flee.
It was not something simple: the waters of the place are frozen most of the year and it is in the middle of an uninhabited archipelago and with a wide wild fauna, both on land and in the water.
In addition to the main building, where the bedrooms and classrooms were, there was a chapel, an auditorium, fields for playing sports and other small buildings for daily tasks.
As one of 130 residential schools that operated between 1847 and 1996, its mission was the “integration” of indigenous children into white culture prevailing since the seventeenth century in Canada.
Thousands of children from the province of British Columbia came to Kuper Island over eight decades.
“I was interned there in 1930,” says Bill Seward, a former student at the Industrial School, in the documentary “Returning to the healing circle” conducted by Peter Campbell and Christine Welsh in 1997, sponsored by the Canadian Ministry of Indian Affairs.
“The only language I knew was my native language. But when he spoke it, he was punished, a lot. There were many nights that I went to bed without dinner, hungry. Many times I was kneeling in a corner, praying and they watching me do it, or if not, there were more punishments, “recalls the old man.
“They threatened my parents that if they didn’t take me to that school they would be jailed. An Indian agent and a policeman came after me, so I had to go.”
Phil Fontaine explains that being very young, the religious – women and men – who ran this boarding school the they made believing that everything in their native culture was evil, sinful.
“The only way to be successful was to be like them, with their values, with their spiritual beliefs, speaking their language. And that’s what all boarding schools were about. They were designed to assimilate our people into the dominant culture,” he says.
It is currently estimated that 150,000 children were taken from their homes to be obligatorily taken to boarding schools, even up to the 1990s.
Some 6,000 died, of which 4,100 have been identified so far. And the recent discovery of graves with nameless girls and boys raises concerns that the reality has been much more dire.
“Many did not return to their homes,” Joan Brown, head of the Penelakut nation, said a few days ago, from which many children were taken to Kuper Island.
“Those of us who offer help do so knowing that entering into a process of trying to locate missing children has the potential to re-traumatize. Therefore, we proceed with caution, always following cultural protocols, always in the direction and direction. pace set by our host communities, “says Simons, who is part of the University of British Columbia.
Abuses that left their mark
Almost 20 years after its demolition, a group of alumni from the Kuper Island boarding school returned to erect a memorial for the fatalities, many of whom were known to them.
They hugged and cried while throwing flowers into the water, as recorded in the Campbell and Welsh documentary.
The isolation It was not only marked by the limits of the island Kuper (today called Penelakut), but also by the norms imposed by the Catholic religious to eliminate the native culture of the children.
One of them, the survivors say, was to separate the children who came from the same family or tribe.
“You couldn’t greet your siblings, cousins or acquaintances,” one of them remembers.
But what has left the biggest emotional consequences for many alumni were the sexual abuse by Catholic religious, whom they called “brothers”.
“They gave you a number, I think mine was 64, and everything had your number, your shirt, your underwear, your jacket,” says James Charlie, who arrived with his brother at the Industrial School in the mid-twentieth century.
“We used to go to the fields to play, especially on weekends, but when you played, you really didn’t enjoy it, as much as you wanted to. When you heard the whistle, a (religious) brother would come out and shout a number, whatever he wanted,” describes noticeably affected by memories.
“And you knew very well that that child had to go up and spend the rest of the afternoon with his brother, in his room, to entertain him. You knew well what would happen to that person in that room,” he says.
Several of the alumni, mainly men, indicate that they have suffered alcoholism, depression, and other emotional and behavioral conditions from the trauma who lived in the Industrial School.
“There was no one to ask for help”recalls a former student.
For tribal chief Brown, “it is impossible to overcome acts of genocide and human rights violations”
The deaths on the island
Canada’s First Nations (First Nation) have for decades denounced what many of their children experienced in boarding schools, including disappearances and deaths in unknown circumstances.
Efforts over the past two decades have led to the discovery, so far, of more than 1,100 unmarked graves in which children who never returned home were buried.
The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVRC) concluded in 2015 that 1 in 50 children who attended school residences died in these institutions. But the Canadian government has not participated in the search for the remains, so it is the tribes who are in charge of the investigations.
In the process of investigation, the Penelakut nation has detected, preliminarily, some 160 graves unmarked on the island where the Industrial School was.
“All of this has largely been left to the indigenous people and their communities, to take care of it, to figure out how to tackle it, heal it and rebuild it,” says Simons.
Even before this, the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation had documented the cases of the two sisters drowned in 1959, a suicide in 1966 and a great fire.
“The students set fire to the school in 1896 when the holidays were canceled. An investigation carried out in that year shows that of 264 alumni, 107 they passed away“, he says.
Furthermore, in 1995 a former employee – his identity or position is unknown – pleaded guilty to three counts of indecent assault and gross indecency.
For Chief Brown, it is very necessary “to face the trauma caused by these acts of genocide.”
The Vatican has not issued an official apology, as requested for several years by First Nations and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Tradeau.
Pope Francis wrote a tweet in June, following the massive grave finds.
Trudeau spoke out on July 13 about what happened on the island: “My heart breaks for the Penelakut tribe and for all the indigenous communities of Canada.”
“I recognize that these findings only deepen the pain that families, survivors and all indigenous peoples and communities are already feeling and that they reaffirm a truth they have known for a long time,” he said.
Earlier, in June, he disagreed with the Vatican: “As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed in the position the Church has taken catolic now and for the past few years, “he said.
Tribes like the Penelakut say they get an apology is an important part of the healing process after decades of being ignored.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.