At least 751 anonymous graves have been found at a former residential school for Indigenous children in Canada, officials said Thursday.
The brutal discovery took place at the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, a Catholic school opened in 1899 and closed in 1997.
“It was a crime against humanity, an assault on First Nations peoples… The only crime we ever committed as a child was being born Indigenous,” said Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations at a press conference.
Less than a month before Thursday’s announcement, a mass grave containing the bodies of 215 Indigenous children was discovered in another such school, the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Ottawa.
Both institutions were part of a dark chapter in Canadian history, in which Indigenous children were withdrawn from their family and sent to government and church run schools to strip them of their culture and force them to assimilate. Schools were plagued by physical and sexual abuse, and thousands of children died, but the exact number and causes of death will probably never be fully known.
Cameron said many more of these old schools will be investigated, and they expect many more graves to be discovered. “We will find more bodies and we will not stop until we find all of our children,” he said.
“Canada unearthed the findings of genocide,” Cameron said. “We had concentration camps here… They were called residential schools. Canada will be known as a nation that tried to exterminate First Nations, and now we have evidence.
Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said the graves were once marked, but the Roman Catholic Church, which ran the school, would have removed the gravestones 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 happened,” Delorme said. “An apology is just one step in the healing journey.”
Earlier this month, the Prime Minister Justin trudeau also called on Pope Francis to apologize for the church’s responsibility in the deaths of indigenous children. “As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed with the stance the Catholic Church has taken today and in recent years,” Trudeau said.
A few days after Trudeau’s comments, the pontiff expressed his sadness following the discovery of the mass grave in Ottawa, but did not apologize. “I join with the Canadian Bishops and the entire Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people traumatized by the shocking news,” Francis said in a public address.
On Thursday, Trudeau said he was “terribly saddened“that the bodies of even more indigenous children had been found.
“No child should ever have been separated from their family and community and deprived of their language, culture and identity. No child should have spent their precious youth enduring terrible loneliness and abuse, “Trudeau said.” No child should have spent their last moments in a place where they lived in fear, never to see them again. his relatives. And no family should have been deprived of the laughter and joy of playing their children, and the pride of watching them grow up in their community. “