Indigenous group in Canada says they discovered hundreds of anonymous graves

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An indigenous community in western Canada says it found hundreds of anonymous graves near a former residential school less than a month after a similar discovery shocked the country and sparked a national discussion on the treatment of peoples indigenous peoples by Canada.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, issued a statement saying it will provide more details on the find at a press conference Thursday alongside the Cowessess First Nation. , located about a hundred kilometers. east of Regina. He did not say how many graves had been found, but called the find “the most significant” to date in the country.

The announcement comes weeks after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation near Kamloops, British Columbia, said it discovered the remains of 215 children in the area of ​​a former government-funded residential school. The find sparked calls for more anonymous graves at the sites of some of the 150 or so former residential schools across Canada.

Canada’s residential school system operated for over a century and separated approximately 150,000 Aboriginal children from their families. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released a report on the system in 2015 which found that the practice of sending Indigenous children to residential schools, often by force or coercion, where they were forced to abandon their culture and their language was tantamount to cultural genocide.

An estimated 4,100 children died of illness or accident while in the system, according to updated figures in the Commission’s report, but some Indigenous leaders believe the number could be significantly higher. Murray Sinclair, a former judge and senator who headed the commission and who is indigenous, said he believed the total death toll could be in the range of 15,000 to 25,000, a number he arrived at extrapolating from the number of remains found in Kamloops.

The most recent anonymous tomb find is at the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School, according to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. The school operated in Saskatchewan for almost a century before closing in the 1990s, making it one of the last of its kind in Canada to close.

“I feel like a punch in the stomach,” Marie Wilson, former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Wednesday evening after the news of the discovery in Saskatchewan.

“And there’s a part of me that feels that kind of sad righteousness… to say, ‘We told you this was going to happen.’ ”

The school building was demolished after it closed and replaced with a day school, according to a report by Scott Hamilton, professor of anthropology at Lakehead University in Ontario. It has been operated by the Roman Catholic Church for much of its history.

The Archdiocese of Regina released a statement earlier in June saying it had a responsibility to “take a fresh look” at four Catholic residential schools that existed in the area, including the Marieval Indian Residential School. He also offered to help him in the process of finding anonymous graves. “We are deeply sorry for the harm that the actions and decisions of our church in the past have caused to indigenous peoples,” Archbishop Donald Bolen said in the statement.

The Canadian government said after the Kamloops discovery it would make the funding it had previously pledged available to help pay for the use of ground penetrating radar to search the sites of former residential schools in search of anonymous graves. Some communities had already undertaken this work in previous years, while others began planning to search for possible remains after the discovery of Kamloops.

Write to Kim Mackrael at [email protected]

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