Over 600 reported bodies found in Indigenous school in Canada
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Leaders of Indigenous groups in Canada said Thursday investigators had found more than 600 anonymous graves at the site of a former residential school for Indigenous children – a finding that follows last month’s report of 215 bodies found in another school.
The bodies were discovered at the Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997, where the Cowessess First Nation is now located, approximately 85 miles east of Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan.
A search with ground-penetrating radar returned 751 “hits”, indicating that at least 600 bodies were buried in the area, Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess said. Radar operators said their results could have a 10% margin of error.
“We want to make sure, when we tell our story, that we’re not trying to make the numbers look bigger than they are,” said Delorme. “I like to say over 600, just to be sure.”
He said the research is continuing and the radar results will be evaluated by a technical team and the numbers will be verified in the coming weeks.
Delorme said the graves were marked at one point, but the Roman Catholic Church that operated the school removed the markers.
On Twitter, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “terribly saddened” to learn of the latest discovery.
“My heart breaks for the Cowessess First Nation over the discovery of Aboriginal children buried in the former Marieval Residential School,” he said, adding that “we will speak the truth about these injustices”.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the entire province mourned the discovery of the anonymous graves.
Don Bolen, Archbishop of Regina, Saskatchewan, posted a letter to the Cowessess First Nation on the Archdiocese’s website.
“The news is overwhelming and I can only imagine the pain and waves of emotion that you and your people are feeling right now,” Bolen wrote.
Bolen said two years ago that he apologized to the Cowessess people for “the failures and sins of Church leaders in the past.”
“I know the apology seems like a very small step as the weight of past suffering is brought to light, but I reiterate this apology and pledge to do what we can to turn this apology into meaningful action – y including helping to access information that will help provide names and information about those buried in anonymous graves, ”he said.
Florence Sparvier, 80, said she attended Marieval Indian Residential School.
“The nuns were very mean to us,” she said. “We had to learn to be Roman Catholics. We couldn’t say our own little blessings.
The nuns at the school “condemned our people” and the pain inflicted continued generations later, Sparvier said.
“We have learned not to like who we are,” she said. “It has continued and it continues.”
Last month, the remains of 215 children, some of whom were only 3 years old, were found buried at the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school, near Kamloops, British Columbia.
Following this discovery, Pope Francis expressed his pain at the discovery and urged religious and political authorities to shed light on “this sad matter”. But he did not offer the apologies requested by the First Nations and by the Canadian government.
“An apology is a step on the road to healing,” said Delorme.
“This was a crime against humanity, an assault on First Nations,” said Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Native Saskatchewan First Nations. He said he expects more graves to be found on residential school grounds across Canada.
“We won’t stop until we find all the bodies,” he said.
From the 19th century to the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools, the majority of them run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, as part of a campaign to assimilate them into Canadian society.
The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse is rampant in schools, with students beaten for speaking their mother tongue.