An indigenous group in the Saskatchewan province in Canada said on Thursday that it had found unmarked graves of an estimated 751 people at a now-defunct Catholic residential school, Reuters reported.
The burial site was discovered only weeks after the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves on the grounds of another former church-run school for indigenous students in the country’s British Columbia province. After that discovery near the Kamloops Residential School, excavations were undertaken near several former institutions for indigenous children across Canada, with the assistance of government authorities.
Cadmus Delorme, the chief of the indigenous group Cowessess First Nation, told reporters that the site discovered on Thursday was not a mass grave one, AFP reported. He said the graves may have been marked at some point but “Catholic Church representatives removed these headstones”. He added that doing so was a crime in Canada and they were treating the site “as a crime scene”.
Delorme also said it was not clear how many of the remains were of children as there was anecdotal evidence of adults being buried at the site.
History of residential schools in Canada
Nearly 1.5 lakh native American children and those from indigenous groups like Metis and Inuit were forcibly recruited from the late 19th century till the 1990s in 139 of these residential schools across Canada, where they were isolated from their families, their language and their culture, according to AFP.
A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 2008 in Canada to investigate the residential schools, called the practice “cultural genocide”, reported The New York Times. Many children never returned home, and their families were given only vague explanations about them going missing. The commission estimated that about 4,100 children went missing from the schools.
Even as it was not clear how the children might have died in the schools, they faced sexual, physical and emotional abuse and violence, according to the newspaper.
Must learn from past, says Justin Trudeau
Expressing grief at the incident, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday said that the country needed to acknowledge its history of racism against indigenous people, reported AFP.
“Together, we must acknowledge this truth, learn from our past, and walk the shared path of reconciliation, so we can build a better future,” Trudeau said.
His comments were despite the fact that his government continues to follow a set of laws dating back to the 19th century that govern the lives of the indigenous people in Canada, according to The New York Times. Nearly 17 lakh indigenous citizens make up about 4.9% of the country’s population.
“We are tired of being told what to do and how to do it,” Delorme told the newspaper.