At least 751 unmarked graves were found in a former boarding school for Indigenous children in Canada, officials said Thursday.
The brutal discovery took place on the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, a Catholic school that opened in 1899 and closed in 1997.
“This was a crime against humanity, an assault on First Nations people … The only crime we committed as children was being born Indigenous,” Chief Bobby Cameron of the United Nations said at a news conference. Federation of Indigenous Sovereign First Nations.
Less than a month before Thursday’s announcement, he was found in a mass grave containing the bodies of 215 indigenous children another school of this kind, the now-defunct Kamloops Indian Residential School, in Ottawa.
Both institutions were part of a dark chapter in the history of Canada, in which Indigenous children found themselves. sections of their families and sent to government-run schools and the church in order to strip them of their culture and force them to assimilate. The schools were full of physical and sexual abuse and thousands of children died, but the exact figures and causes of death are probably never fully known.
Cameron said many more of these old schools will be investigated and hope many more graves will be found. “We will find more bodies and not stop until we find all our children,” he said.
“Canada has unearthed the findings of the genocide,” Cameron said. “We had concentration camps here … They were called Indian residential schools. Canada will be known as a nation that tried to exterminate the First Nations, and now we have evidence.”
The head of the First Nation Cowessess, Cadmus Delorme, said the graves were once marked, but it is believed that the Roman Catholic church, which ran the school, removed the tombstones in the 1960s. Delorme asked the pope to apologize for the role of the church in the management of residential schools.
“The pope must apologize for what has happened,” Delorme said. “An apology is a stage for many in the healing journey.”
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau he also asked Pope Francis to apologize for the church’s responsibility in the deaths of indigenous children. “As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed by the position the Catholic Church has taken now and in recent years,” Trudeau said.
Days after Trudeau’s comments, the pontiff expressed sadness for the discovery of the mass grave in Ottawa but offered no apology. “I join with Canadian bishops and the entire Catholic Church in Canada to express my closeness to the Canadian people traumatized by the shocking news,” Francis said in public statements.
On Thursday, Trudeau said it was “terribly saddened“that the bodies of more indigenous children had been found.
“No child should have ever been removed from their families and communities, nor should their language, culture and identity be stolen. No child should have spent their precious youth subjected to terrible loneliness and abuse. “No child should have spent his last moments in a place where he lived in fear, so as not to see his loved ones again. And no family should have been robbed of laughter. and the joy of their children playing and the pride of seeing them grow in their community. “