June 24, 2021 12:47pm
Ground-penetrating radar has discovered the bodies of 751 Indigenous people in unmarked graves outside a former residential school in Saskatchewan.
The Cowessess First Nation revealed the jaw-dropping discovery Thursday morning at a news conference. The bodies were found on June 2.
The unmarked graves are outside the former Marieval Indian Residential School, about 160 kilometres east of Regina.
It is not clear if the bodies contained in the graves are all children. There are oral stories of adults buried there as well.
“Our community is in mourning, and our families are in pain,” said Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme. “Every one of our Cowessess members has a family member buried there. The pain we are feeling is real.”
Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Bobby Cameron added, “Sadly, this is just the beginning. There will be hundreds more unmarked graves and burial sites located across our First Nations land at the sites of former Indian Residential Schools. There are thousands of families across our Treaty territories that have been waiting for their children to come home. Saskatchewan had the highest number of residential schools and the highest number of survivors. There will be hundreds more.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement Thursday in reaction to the news.
“No child should have ever been taken away from their families and communities, robbed of their language, culture, and identity,” read the statement. “No child should have spent their precious youth subjected to the terrible loneliness and abuse. No child should have spent their last moments in a place where they lived in fear, never to see their loved ones again.”
He said the trauma suffered by the Indigenous is Canada’s responsibility to bear, and Ottawa will continue to provide First Nations with the funding to “bring these terrible wrongs to light.”
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also released a statement expressing his condolences.
“Today, all of Saskatchewan mourns for those who were discovered buried in unmarked graves near the former Marieval Indian Residential School site. I understand many were children, and it is heartbreaking to think that so many children lost their lives after being separated from their families, and away from the love and solace only a family can provide,” he said.
The school, operated by Roman Catholic missionaries and funded by the Canadian government, opened in 1899. It closed in 1997.
The discovery comes almost a month after 251 bodies were found in unmarked graves outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Since then, the Ontario government has pledged $10-million over three years to help First Nations locate and commemorate unmarked burial sites across the province.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report estimated 6,000 children died in Canada’s residential school system in the 19th and 20th centuries. It detailed how Indigenous children were often forcefully taken from their families to attend 130 compulsory residential schools across the country. Survivors recounted widespread abuse at the schools.
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