New Delhi: In another chilling discovery in Canada, the remains of at least 751 people, mostly indigenous children, were Thursday found at the site of a former Catholic residential school in Saskatchewan province.
This comes after the remains of 215 children were found in a former Kamloops residential school in the country’s British Columbia province last month.
The unmarked graves are of the many of the indigenous children who may have died at these schools, according to some of the survivors of the boarding schools, who, for decades, have spoken of the horrific history of thousands of children having disappeared from these schools.
The indigenous people in Canada are those whose ancestors were the original inhabitants of the country. This included peoples of First Nations, Inuit and Metis.
Cowessess First Nation, one of the 634 First Nations governments or bands recognised by the Canadian government, found the unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian Residential School, about 87 km away from the provincial capital Regina.
Cadmus Delorme, chief of the Cowessess First Nation, said they began scanning the area using ground-penetrating radar on 2 June.
Delorme, who also helped spur the discovery of similar graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School last month, said he expected to find more bodies.
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What happened at Church-run residential schools
The residential school system, which operated from the 1880s to the late 1990s, was set up by the Canadian government and administered by churches to ‘civilise’ and ‘assimilate’ indigenous children into Canadian society.
This meant that for decades, these children were taken from their families and forced to attend these crowded, “sorely underfunded” Church-run boarding schools where they were often abused and prohibited from speaking their languages, leading to thousands of them vanishing altogether.
“The only crime we ever committed as children were being born Indigenous,” Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, the provincial federation of Indigenous groups, told The New York Times. “This was a crime against humanity, an assault on a First Nation people,” he said.
It is unclear how the children died at the schools, which were buffeted by disease outbreaks a century ago, and where children allegedly faced sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and violence.
Some of the children who got through this traumatic phase, testified that the babies born to girls — impregnated by priests and monks — were killed and in some cases thrown into furnaces.
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The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up in 2008 by the Canadian government, which collected and compiled testaments from 6,750 witnesses to document the history of Canada’s residential school system for six years, termed the system as a form of “cultural genocide”.
The commission estimated that out of 150,000, around 4,100 children went missing nationwide from these 150 residential schools in Canada but Murray Sinclair, the Indigenous former judge who led the commission, wrote in an email this month that he now believed the number of children was “well beyond 10,000”.
Local Indigenous leaders demanded an inquiry into what they called a “genocide”, and called for the Church and the government to provide all records related to the administration of the schools. Chief Delorme also demanded an apology from Pope Francis, saying Roman Catholic Church needed to address its actions.
“The incredible burden of the past is still with us, and the truth of that past needs to come out, however painful,” Don Bolen, the Archbishop of Regina, wrote in a letter to the Cowessess group.
“There’s no denying this. All of the stories told by our survivors are true,” Chief Cameron said.
Reacting to the unmarked mass graves, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday said, “These findings only deepen the pain that families, survivors, and all Indigenous peoples and communities are already feeling, and that they reaffirm a truth that they have long known.”
He added: “Canada’s responsibility to bear, and the government will continue to provide Indigenous communities across the country with the funding and resources they need to bring these terrible wrongs to light.”
The findings have also prompted the United States to “to reflect on past Federal policies to culturally assimilate Indigenous peoples in the United States”.
The US Department of the Interior Tuesday announced the launch of “Indian boarding school investigative initiative” under which they will carry out a similar ground-penetrating radar survey to identify federal boarding schools and locations of possible burial sites of Native American children at or near the schools.
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