Hundreds of unmarked graves have been discovered at a former school for indigenous children in Canada. The graves were discovered at the Marieval Indian Residential School in the Saskatchewan province, as a result of the Cowessess First Nation new effort to search various residential school sites with strong radar technology in order to locate the remains of students.
Canada involuntarily made its Indigenous population attend boarding schools throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in an attempt to familiarize them with Euro-Canadian culture and reintroduce them into society with a new cultural identity. These schools were often abusive and violent environments for the children, who were separated from their families at extremely young ages and not allowed to speak their own language.
This practice was in place in Canada as recently as 1998. Residential schools were first introduced in 1863. Since then an estimated 150,000 children have been forced to endure what a 2008 commission called a “cultural genocide.” After said commission was launched in 2008, the Canadian government issued an apology to its indigenous population, but the Roman Catholic Church, the primary entity controlling the majority of these schools from within, has not yet done so.
Unmarked graves reveal more about Canada’s disturbing past
The Cowessess First Nation discovered the unmarked graves when they were searching the cemetery of the Marieval Residential School. It is not certain whether the graves previously had markers with identifying information that had since been removed by those operating the school. It has not been determined whether all of the remains are those of students of the Marieval Residential School.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the findings by saying he was “terribly saddened” and that it was “a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced”.
Preceding the most recent discovery in Saskatchewan, 215 unmarked graves were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in May. The Kamloops Indian Residential School was the biggest residential school in the government-funded program, with as many as 500 students at one point in time. Kamloops was first opened in 1890.
The remains at Kamloops were detected with the same radar technology used at the Marieval Residential School.
“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” said Rosanne Casimir, who is the chief of community of the city of Kamloops, where the school was located.
“Some were as young as three years old.”
“We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlups te Secwepemc is the final resting place of these children.”
Approximately 6,000 children died at the residential schools in Canada. More surveys of other grave sites at former residential schools are expected to happen as the Indigenous groups spearheading these searches receive more funding from the government.