Canadian Indigenous Group Finds Hundreds of Unmarked Graves Near Former School
An Indigenous community in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan said it found 751 unmarked graves near a former boarding school, weeks after a similar discovery at another school set off a nationwide discussion about Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people.
The Cowessess First Nation, which is located roughly 100 miles east of Regina, Saskatchewan, said Thursday it began searching the area of the Marieval Indian Residential School earlier this month. The school operated between 1898 and 1997, and was part of a nationwide system that removed Indigenous children from their families over the course of more than a century and suppressed their culture and language.
In many cases, students who were sent to so-called residential schools endured physical and sexual abuse, a 2015 report by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission found, and it is estimated that 4,100 children died of disease or by accident while in the system. Some Indigenous leaders believe the number is much higher.
Cowessess First Nation Chief
said on Thursday that researchers used ground-penetrating radar, which looks for changes in the soil’s water and salt content, to search the area. He said the search identified 751 possible graves, and that researchers indicated there is a 10% to 15% margin of error on their findings.
Chief Delorme said children who attended the Marieval school were buried at a gravesite, but headstones had been removed by the Catholic Church, which ran the school for many years. He added that it isn’t known whether all of the unmarked graves represent former students at the residential school, and it is possible that some adult community members were buried on the site as well. He said most of the gravesites are spaced evenly apart.
“We are going to be putting names to these unmarked graves,” Chief Delorme said. He said the community wants to honor those buried at the site and preserve the area. “It’s going to hurt in the coming months, because the more we put names to them, the more it’s going to reopen some of the pain that many endured at the Marieval residential school.”
The discovery in Saskatchewan came several weeks after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation near Kamloops, British Columbia, said it had discovered the remains of 215 children in the area of a former government-funded boarding school. That discovery led to calls to search for more unmarked graves at the sites of some of the roughly 150 former residential schools across Canada, and the search at the Marieval site began around that time.
The Marieval Indian Residential School closed in 1997, making it one of the last of its kind in Canada to close. It was later demolished.
The Archbishop of Regina,
wrote in a letter addressed to Chief Delorme and the Cowessess First Nation on Thursday that the discovery of unmarked graves at the Marieval site “brings us face to face with the brutal legacy” of the residential school system, which he said caused trauma that was passed down from one generation to the next.
“I know that apologies seem a very small step as the weight of past suffering comes into greater light, but I extend that apology again,” he said in the letter. He added the archdiocese would do what it could to turn its apology into meaningful action, including by providing access to information that might help identify those who were buried in the unmarked graves.
Canadian Prime Minister
said Thursday that the findings at the Marieval and Kamloops schools are a shameful reminder of the racism and injustice Indigenous people in Canada have experienced in the past and continue to endure.
“I am terribly saddened to learn that the remains of children had been found in unmarked graves near the former Marieval (Cowessess) Residential School in Saskatchewan,” Mr. Trudeau said. “My heart breaks for the Cowessess First Nation, and for all Indigenous communities across Canada.”
Write to Kim Mackrael at [email protected]
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