Thousands march for Penelakut Tribe following discovery of unmarked graves

A sea of orange shirts flowed through the streets of Chemainus, B.C. on Monday in support of the Penelakut Tribe following last month’s revelation that 160 unmarked graves were discovered at the former Kuper Island Industrial School site on Penelakut Island.

About 3,000 residential school survivors, First Nations community members and supporters marched in solidarity with the tribe.

“Our elders felt it was time – time do something, time to speak for the ones that can’t speak, so that’s why we’re here today,” said Mike Charlie, chair of the Penelakut Elders Treaty Committee.

Last month, the committee sent a memo to neighbouring First Nations to share news about the work it has been doing with ground-penetrating radar since 2014.

The Penelakut Tribe says it has found the graves of 160 children and expects to unearth the remains of many more.

“Today is about bringing their spirit back to the lands where they came from,” said Eddy Charlie, a Kuper Island residential school survivor.

“The truth of residential schools is now starting to make people listen.”

About seven years ago, the Penelakut Tribe began working with researchers at the University of British Columbia to search for the remains of missing children.

UBC anthropology professor Andrew Martindale has been working with the Penelakut Tribe and says it’s a daunting task that has only just begun.

“At this location, of course, but across the country, it’s such an enormous task,” said Martindale. “The governments in Canada need to think about the resources that are necessary to dedicate to this. The numbers of missing children are likely in the tens of thousands across the country.”

The Penelakut March For Missing Children wrapped up with speeches at Waterwheel Park in Chemainus.

“A turnout like this is going to make Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Vatican realize that now is the time for them to tender the apology that needed to be heard a long time ago,” said Charlie.

Ground-penetrating radar work at the former Kuper Island school site is expected to resume in the coming weeks.