600 unmarked graves found at Indigenous school weeks after 215 kids' bodies discovered

An indigenous group in Saskatchewan, Canada, discovered the unmarked remains of at least 600 people at the now-defunct Marieval Indian Residential School

                            600 unmarked graves found at Indigenous school weeks after 215 kids' bodies discovered
The Catholic Church ran the Marieval Indian Residential School until 1969, when it was handed over to the federal government (Société historique de Saint-Boniface)

An indigenous group in Saskatchewan, Canada, announced on Thursday, June 24, that it has discovered the unmarked remains of 751 people at a now-defunct Catholic residential school, only weeks after a similar find shook the country and exposed Canada's dark history of racism.

The bodies were discovered near the Cowessess First Nation, some 85 miles east of Regina, Saskatchewan's capital, where the Marieval Indian Residential School operated from 1899 until 1997. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to say he was "terribly saddened" to learn of the latest discovery. He told indigenous people that "the hurt and the trauma that you feel is Canada’s responsibility to bear".


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Trudeau was himself in hot water earlier for putting on brown make-up to attend an Arabian Nights party in 2001, and for two more damning photographs of the Canadian prime minister dressed in controversial blackface. "The number of unmarked graves will be the most significantly substantial to date," the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations stated in a news release.


Why were 600 bodies found at indigenous school in Canada?

According to Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess, a search with ground-penetrating radar yielded 751 "hits", indicating that at least 600 victims were buried in the region. Fox News reported the radar operators stating that their results may have a 10 per cent margin of error.

"We want to make sure when we tell our story that we’re not trying to make numbers sound bigger than they are," Delorme said. "I like to say over 600, just to be assured." The hunt will continue, he said, with the radar strikes being evaluated by a technical team and the numbers being validated in the following weeks. The tombs were once marked, according to Delorme, but the Roman Catholic Church that ran the school had destroyed the markers.


Headstones gone

Even while indigenous people continue to strive for justice and better living conditions, the latest find, the largest till date, serves as a somber reminder of the years of cruelty and injustice they have endured in Canada.

It's unclear how many of the remains discovered belong to youngsters, according to Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme, who also noted that adults were buried at the site. Some of the tombs, Delorme later informed Reuters, belong to non-indigenous people who may have belonged to the church. According to him, the First Nation intends to locate the headstones that originally identified these graves, after which they may seek police assistance.


'We are treating this like a crime scene'

"We didn't remove the headstones. Removing headstones is a crime in this country. We are treating this like a crime scene," Delorme said, adding that the church that ran the school removed the headstones. Between 1831 and 1996, the residential school system separated around 150,000 indigenous children from their families and sent them to Christian, predominantly Catholic, residential schools maintained on behalf of the federal government.

"The nuns were very mean to us," Florence Sparvier, 80, who attended the Marieval Indian Residential School, told Fox News. "We had to learn how to be Roman Catholic. We couldn’t say our own little blessings." The nuns at the institution were "condemning about our people," Sparvier claimed, and the sorrow they inflicted has lasted generations. "We learned how to not like who we were," she said. "That has gone on and it’s still going on.''


Last month, the bones of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were discovered buried outside Kamloops, British Columbia, on the site of what was once Canada's largest indigenous residential school. According to a BBC report, the Missing Children Project documented the deaths and the burial places of children who died while attending the schools. More than 4,100 children who died while attending residential schools have been identified, it says. In fact, the actual number of deaths that occurred at the school are impossible to determine.

After the grim discovery came to light, the National Association of Friendship Centres has put out resources for those seeking support. Anyone in need can call the Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.


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