Penelakut Island, formerly known as Kuper Island and renamed in 2010 in honour of the Penelakut First Nation people, is located in the southern Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland Pacific coast of British Columbia, Canada. The Penelakut First Nation people are part of a larger group called Hul’qumi’num people. The island has a population of about 300 members of the Penelakut Band. It is not a large community, but it has suffered largely. Through no fault of its own.
The island and the Indian Residential School were the subject of a CBC radio series turned into podcasts. It is worth listening to it.
The host of the show, Duncan McCue travelled to Penelakut where the Kuper Island Residential School was located. Some people called the school “Alcatraz.” Think about that for a moment. A school supported by a church and the government of Canada was called Alcatraz. Canada’s Alcatraz.
Long after the Kuper Island Residential School was torn down, the survivors are still haunted by what happened there. Investigative reporter Duncan McCue of the CBC exposed buried police investigations, confronted perpetrators of abuse as well as victims of abuse. He also witnessed a community trying to rebuild — literally on top of the old school’s ruins and the unmarked graves of Indigenous children. The podcast he helped produce is well worth listening to as long as you can stand uncomfortable truths. I know that many of us can’t while others are tired of hearing about them. Some of these say, ‘Why can’t we get over it?’
That is a good question. Others say that their people also suffered abuse. Mennonites, for example, in some cases make such claims too. And they are right. But I don’t want to get into a suffering Olympics. The point is not who suffered worse. I just want to point out it is difficult for survivors of residential schools, and even their descendants who have suffered inter-generational trauma, to “get over it.” We should learn about what happened to them first. The rest of us should be sympathetic before we become critical. Not many people in Canada had inflicted upon them schools where they had to attend even though they were designed to disparage their parents, inflict physical, emotional, and sexual abuse upon the children. These schools were part of a Canadian system of oppression. Some even called it genocide. Who knows how we would react to such a situation.
The rest of us are lucky sit didn’t happen to them. Even though this happened for many decades, it was kept secret. I went to school in Canada for 20 years, including 7 years at university, and never heard of it once until after I had left that university. When I first heard about residential schools found it hard to believe and later I thought it was a case of a few bad apples. It was more than that. More than 130 residential schools operated across Canada. As the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has described them, “The schools were a deliberate attempt to destroy Indigenous communities and ways of life. They were part of a broader process of colonization and genocide.”
I have read the executive summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. I recommend all Canadians do the same. This history was hidden from us. I want to learn about that history. I think it is important for us to know that history.
Right now, I ust want to look at what happened in one residential school. 1 school out of 130. It was Kuper Island Residential School.