Updated: June 24, 2021 9:11:19 pm
Written By Ian Austen
A Canadian Indigenous group Wednesday announced the “horrific and shocking discovery” of the remains of hundreds of children at the site of a former school in the province of Saskatchewan, the largest such discovery to date.
It came weeks after the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves on the grounds of another former boarding school in British Columbia.
Both schools were part of a system that took Indigenous children in the country from their families, sometimes by force, and housed them in boarding schools. A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission called the practice “cultural genocide.” Many children never returned home, and their families were given only vague explanations of their fates, or none at all.
In a statement, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said that the latest remains numbered in the hundreds and were “the most significantly substantial to date in Canada.” It did not give an exact figure.
The discovery was made by the Cowessess First Nation at the Marieval Indian Residential School, about 87 miles from the provincial capital, Regina. The federation’s chief, Bobby Cameron, said that the group planned a formal announcement Thursday.
“There was always talk and speculation and stories, but to see this number — it’s a pretty significant number,” Cameron said. “It’s going to be difficult and painful and heartbreaking.”
The latest findings are likely to deepen the nation’s debate over its history of exploiting Indigenous people. The discoveries will refocus attention on the horrors of the schools where sexual, physical and emotional abuse were common, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found.
It is unclear how many children were sent to the schools, never to return home. Disease, including the Spanish flu outbreak a century ago, often swept through the overcrowded school dormitories. Some children died from exposure after escaping. And testimony by former students to the commission included accounts of the incineration of bodies of infants born to girls who had been impregnated by priests and monks.
The commission estimated that about 4,100 children vanished. But an Indigenous former judge who led the panel said in an email earlier this month that he now believed the number was “well beyond 10,000.”
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