Statement on Unmarked Graves at the Former Kuper Island Residential School Site

The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) at UBC is troubled by the recent finding of over 160 unmarked graves by the Penelakut Tribe, in the area in which the Kuper Island Residential School once operated. It is not yet clear how many of those graves belong to children forced to attend the school, however, the Centre will be supporting Kwalimtunaat, or Chief Joan Brown of the Penelakut Tribe and all the families and communities that had children removed and forced to attend the school.

The Penelakut Tribe made the announcement and invited neighbouring community members to join the March for the Children on August 2 in Chemainus and announcing community healing sessions on July 28 and August 4. Non-Indigenous allies are also welcome to attend those healing sessions to listen and bear witness to the truths that will be shared.

“Unfortunately, we knew that these identifications would continue and the painful work is just beginning in First Nations communities where difficult decisions will be needed in the days and months ahead regarding the investigation and accountability for the mass graves,” explains Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond, Aki-Kwe, Academic Director, IRSHDC. “It remains a challenging time for First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across the country, and we must renew our commitment to exploring the truth of these institutions and the ongoing trauma effects they have today.”

The Kuper Island School on Kuper Island near Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia opened in 1889 and operated for 85 years from 1890-1975. The institution was first operated by the Catholic church and came under the jurisdiction of the federal government in 1969. The history of the school is one of cruelty and neglect, including records of physical and sexual abuse, food deprivation, isolation, severely unsanitary conditions, and budget cuts that resulted in dangerous living conditions. On more than one occasion, official reports were made about the school’s food budget and inability to properly provide food for the students forced to attend.

These findings once again reaffirm the need for dedicated funds for communities to do this work. In direct alignment with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action 73 and 75, the work to identify unmarked graves is difficult but vitally important.

“For those survivors and their families forced to attend the Kuper Island Residential School, the unmarked grave is confirmation that aligns with what those survivors have spoken about for several generations. Children did not make it home, and suffered horrific abuse, neglect and mistreatment, the impact of which continues to this day. It is important for us to hear the survivors, to record their testimony and ensure it informs the work of documenting the horrors of this place.”

We stand with the Penelakut Tribe and with the families of students forced to attend the Kuper Island School. The work of overcoming this history continues to be difficult, and we honour everyone who continues to push forward.

More on Kuper Island Residential School and the children that never returned

  • Kuper Island School operated from 1890-1975 (75 years)
  • The school was managed by the Catholic church from 1890 to 1969.
    • From 1890 to 1907 the school was run by a local diocesan priest
    • From 1908 to 1957, the school was run by the Montfort Fathers
    • From 1957 to 1969, the school was run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate
    • The school was staffed by the Sisters of Saint Ann since 1890
  • The federal government of Canada took over the school administration from 1969 to 1975.
  • More than 100 students perished in a suspicious fire in 1896 after Christmas holidays were cancelled
  • A smallpox epidemic struck the school in 1920, and a typhoid epidemic struck in 1939.
  • There are official records of children running away from the school, and at least one student who died by suicide.
  • Children from 42 First Nations in British Columbia were forced to attend Kuper Island school
  • There are 121 names from the Kuper Island School in the NCTR Memorial Registry.

Resources

  • A National Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support to former students. This 24-Hour Crisis Line can be accessed at: 1-866-925-4419.
  • Canada’s residential schools: Missing children and unmarked burials. The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015).
  • Kuper Island Residential School Records