Canada was shaken on Thursday by the discovery of hundreds of anonymous graves in a place where a boarding school for indigenous students run by the Catholic Church operated , less than a month after the appearance of the remains of 215 children in another similar center.
Community leaders and the Saskatchewan Federation of Sovereign Indian Nations announced at a press conference that there are more than 750 graves near the former Marieval boarding school in the province of Saskatchewan.
“As of yesterday, we found 751 unnamed graves,” Cowessess First Nation chief Cadmus Delorme told reporters, clarifying that it is not “a mass grave.” He added that each grave will be evaluated over the next several weeks to determine the final number of victims whose remains are found at the site.
Delorme noted that the graves, found through ground-penetrating radar mapping, may have been marked at some point, but that “representatives of the Catholic Church removed those headstones.” He recalled that this is considered a crime in Canada, so the site is treated “like a crime scene.”
Condemnation of Trudeau
On Wednesday night, the Cowessess community had become aware of the “horrifying and shocking discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves” during excavations around that residential school, located about 150 km east of Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the findings “an embarrassing reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination and injustice that indigenous peoples have faced and continue to face” in Canada, adding that the country must acknowledge its history of racism to ” build a better future “.
Some 150,000 native, mestizo and Inuit children were forcibly recruited until the 1990s in 139 of these internships across the country, where they were isolated from their families, language and culture. Many of them were subjected to mistreatment and sexual abuse in these educational centers, where more than 4,000 students were killed, according to an investigation commission that concluded that Canada perpetrated a true “cultural genocide”.
The head of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Bobby Cameron, described the find as “a crime against humanity.” “The only crime we committed when we were children was being born indigenous,” he said.
Apology request from the Church
The discovery has reopened the debate about these hated institutions where indigenous children were forcibly sent to be integrated into the dominant culture. And he has reactivated calls for the Pope and the Church to apologize for the abuse and violence inflicted on students. The Supreme Pontiff declined to apologize, sparking frustration and anger in Canadian indigenous communities.
Meanwhile, UN human rights experts urged Ottawa and the Vatican to carry out a rapid and complete investigation into the management of these internees. “It is absolutely tragic, but not surprising,” tweeted Perry Bellegarde, head of the Assembly of First Nations, which represents more than 900,000 indigenous people in Canada.
Marieval boarding school in eastern Saskatchewan hosted Aboriginal children between 1899 and 1997, but two years later it was demolished and replaced with a day school. Asked by the CBC station, Barry Kennedy, a former resident of the Marieval school, considered that this new discovery is just the tip of the iceberg. “I imagine, you know, from the stories our friends and colleagues have told us, that there are several places, by school,” he explained.
“I had a friend who was dragged outside one night, he was screaming,” he recalled. He never saw him again. “His name was Bryan … I want to know where Bryan is.” “We discovered the rape … the violent beatings. They made us discover things that were not normal in our families,” Kennedy added.
Following the discovery of children’s remains at the Kamloops school, excavations were begun at several of these former boarding schools across Canada, with the help of government authorities. Indigenous community leaders await more horrendous discoveries in the coming months.
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