A First Nation in Canada announced on Thursday that it discovered 751 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan province, marking the second time in less than a month that Canada’s dark and bloody history of Indigenous genocide has been once again thrust into the light.
The Cowessess First Nation made the horrific discovery at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School, reports CBC.
The Marieval Indian Residential School operated from 1899 to 1997 in the area. Children from First Nations in southeastern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba were forced to go to the schools.
The discovery comes just a few weeks after Canada and the rest of the world was shocked by the confirmation by the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation that the bodily remains of 215 Indigenous children were found in a mass grave at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Colombia.
On Thursday, Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme noted that while this was a “horrific and shocking discovery,” the site near the Marieval Indian Residential School was different from the one at Kamloops.
“This is not a mass grave site. These are unmarked graves,” said Delorme. “We are treating this like a crime scene at the moment.”
She also noted that there may have been markers at the graves at some point, but that the Roman Catholic church could have removed them at some point prior to handing over control of the cemetery to Cowessess in the 1970s.
“The news that hundreds of unmarked graves have been found in Cowessess First Nation is absolutely tragic, but not surprising,” tweeted Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. “I urge all Canadians to stand with First Nations in this extremely difficult and emotional time.”
Roughly 150,000 First Nations children were forcibly separated from their families and communities and forced to attend the government-funded, Catholic and Protestant church-run schools which were established in the 19th century to assimilate Indigenous children.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has confirmed that large amounts of Indigenous children fled such residential or died there, their whereabouts unknown. Former students have also testified to the horrific sexual, mental and physical abuse they suffered while enrolled at the schools. Myriad students died from preventable diseases that rapidly spread in unsanitary conditions, as well as in accidents and fires. Others disappeared when trying to escape.
The Commission has also said that the schools institutionalized child neglect and were meant to carry out “cultural genocide.”
This was a crime against humanity,” Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), told VICE News. “The only crime we committed as children was being born Indigenous…We had concentration camps here. We had them here in Saskatchewan. They were called Indian residential schools.”
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