Less than one month after a First Nations group in Canada discovered the unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children entrusted to the care of a state-sponsored Catholic boarding school in Kamloops, British Columbia, a similar discovery has been made in Saskatchewan at another school. However, this time the search uncovered the remains of 751 children.
According to the Washington Post, about 150,000 Indigenous children were sent to these schools all over Canada (and in the U.S.) during the 19th century under the guise of “assimilation.” There, the children suffered brutal physical and sexual abuse along with horrific living conditions. These horrors, in addition to overcrowding and lack of medical care, meant thousands of children died, and the schools very often saved money by burying their bodies in unmarked graves rather than informing families.
In Saskatchewan, the Cowessess First Nation had always suspected they might make such a discovery at the Marieval Indian Residential School, which was founded by the Catholic church in the 1890s and funded and run by the Canadian government until 1987, when it was handed over to the First Nation before closing for good in 1990s.
The Cowessess First Nation received a grant to use an underground radar detection team, just like the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation, who made their completely unconscionable but expected discovery just weeks ago. Likewise, Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said the discovery did not come as a shock, but that having the remains helps in the First Nations’ collective grieving process:
“The pain is real, the pain is there and the pain hasn’t gone away,” Delorme told the Regina Leader-Post. “As we heal, every Cowessess citizen has a family member in that gravesite. To know there’s some unmarked, it continues the pain.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that there will likely be many more similar discoveries in the coming months, as officials say it’s impossible to even posit a number of Indigenous children who disappeared from these schools in their long, genocidal history.
While Canadian officials and the Anglican church have both issued formal apologies, the Catholic Church has not, despite Trudeau’s public plea for Pope Francis to do so in 2017.