- BBC News World
An indigenous group in Canada said Thursday it had found 751 unmarked graves at the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School, a former Catholic boarding school, in the province of Saskatchewan.
The group – Cowessess First Nation – called the discovery the “most significant yet in Canada.”
“We are not asking for sympathy, but we are asking for understanding,” Cowesses chief Cadmus Delorme also said.
The discovery comes weeks after the remains of 215 children at a similar school in British Columbia.
This one compulsory boarding schools they were administered by the government and religious authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries with the aim of assimilating the Indigenous youth into Canadian culture.
In May, the Cowesses began using radar that can scan the ground to locate unmarked graves in the Marieval School cemetery.
The group called the discovery “appalling and shocking”.
Of the 751 graves found up to this Thursday, it is not known how many are of children.
“There are oral testimonies that there are also adults in the cemetery,” Delorme said.
The Cowesses chief added that at some point the graves may have been identified but the headstones had been removed.
“Tombstone removal is a crime in this country. We treat the place as… a scene from and crime“, he pointed.
Perry Bellegarde, national head of the Assembly of First Nations, described finding the graves as: “tragic but not surprising”.
“I urge all Canadians to support First Nations during this extremely difficult and emotional time,” he wrote on Twitter.
The head of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Bobby Cameron, described the find as “a crime against humanity,” the AFP agency said.
“The world is watching Canada as we dig up the findings of the genocide,” he said.
“We had concentration camps here… Canada will be known as the country that tried to wipe out the First Nations,” he added.
In between 1863 and 1998, more than 150,000 indigenous children they were separated from their families and sent to schools like Residencial Marieval.
The children were often not allowed to speak their language or practice their culture, and many were mistreated and abused.
The Marieval School operated from 1899 to 1997.
“They made us believe we had no soul,” a former college student, Florence Sparvier, said at a news conference Thursday. “We were looked down on as humans, so we learned to fend off who we were.”
A committee set up in 2008 to document the impact of this residential school system found that large numbers of Indigenous children have never returned to their home communities.
In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the system.
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