MONTREAL: An indigenous community in western Canada has discovered nearly 100 suspected unmarked graves near the site of a former residential school, officials said on Tuesday.
Since 2021, communities across the country have recorded more than 1,300 unmarked graves near the religious educational institutions, which took in indigenous children for more than a century as part of a Canadian policy of forced assimilation.
“What we found was heartbreaking and devastating,” Jenny Wolverine, chief of the English River First Nation Indigenous group, told a news conference. “To date, there are 93 potential unmarked graves, 79 children and 14 infants. Let me be clear… this is not a final number,” she added, warning it could climb higher.
The discoveries, near the site of what was the Beauval Indian residential school in the province of Saskatchewan, were made using ground-penetrating radar.
At least 79 children, 14 infants among victims, official says
According to the University of Regina, the residential school was demolished by former students after its closure in 1995.
Between the late 19th century and the mid-1990s, some 150,000 Indigenous children were forced into 139 residential schools across Canada, where they were cut off from their family, language and culture. This dark page in Canadian history was recently thrust back into the spotlight after the discovery in the spring of 2021 of the first child graves associated with a school, sparking a reckoning over the country’s colonial history.
Managed by the Catholic Church and the Canadian government, the schools had an explicit objective to “kill the Indian” in the heart of the child.
In April 2022, Pope Francis presented his apologies to a delegation of Indigenous Canadians at the Vatican, ahead of an official papal visit to the country.
Ottawa, for its part, presented an apology to its Indigenous peoples for the first time in 2008. “We… ask Canada and Saskatchewan to accept the wrong” and “reflect in their approaches with Indigenous governments,” Wolverine said, to ensure “history never repeats itself.”
“We have heard ‘I am sorry,’” Wolverine said, asking instead for words to be put into action.
Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2023