By Julio Cesar Rivas
Toronto, Canada, Jun 24 (EFE).- After the discovery in the last hours of 751 more unmarked graves at a former school in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, an indigenous federation vowed Thursday to find the remaining thousands of children who disappeared in former government boarding schools.
The discovery of the graves on the grounds of the former Marieval Residential School comes a month after the remains of 215 children were found at another former government school in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme, said Thursday during a press conference that they began work with ground penetrating radar on June 2.
“As of yesterday, we have hit 751 unmarked graves” at the site of the former Marieval boarding school, Delorme said. “This is not a mass grave site. These are unmarked graves.”
“Over the past years the oral stories of our elders, of our survivors, and friends of our survivors, have told us stories that knew these burials were here. In 1960, there may have been marks on these graves. The Catholic Church representatives removed these headstones, and today they are unmarked graves,” Delorme added.
The chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations of Saskatchewan, which represents the 74 indigenous groups in the province, Bobby Cameron, said that “this was a crime against humanity, an assault on a First Nation people.”
Cameron vowed that indigenous groups will continue their search for thousands of missing children.
“We will find more bodies,” he said. “And we will not stop until we find all of our children.”
The Marievel Residential School, some 2,500 kilometers northwest of Toronto and in operation between 1899 and 1996, was one of about 130 government boarding schools that Canada created in the late 19th century to assimilate the indigenous population into society.
The school residences were run by religious orders, mostly from the Catholic Church, and children were forced to convert to Christianity and were not allowed to speak their languages nor practice their culture.
Some 150,000 indigenous children passed through these schools, which operated between 1890 and 1997, many of whom suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse during their stay.
It is estimated that thousands of minors died in school residences due to illness, poor health care and poor conditions, but also due to the abuse they suffered.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concluded that one in 50 children sent to school residences, around 3,200 children died in institutions, although this figure is considered conservative by indigenous leaders.
Florence Sparvier, an 80-year-old Cowessess woman and survivor of the Marievel school recounted to reporters how “if the parents didn’t want to allow their children to go to boarding school, one of them had to go to jail. So in order to keep the family together, we went to boarding school.”
“They made us believe we didn’t have souls,” she recalled of the nuns. “They pounded it into us … and they were really mean. When I say pounding, I mean pounding. Those nuns were really mean to us.”
In a statement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “terribly saddened” upon hearing the news.
“The findings in Marieval and Kamloops are part of a larger tragedy. They are a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced – and continue to face – in this country,” Trudeau said.
“And together, we must acknowledge this truth, learn from our past, and walk the shared path of reconciliation, so we can build a better future.” EFE