Unmarked graves of 751 people identified near former Catholic boarding school for Indigenous children in western Canada, a tribal leader says, in the second such shock discovery in a month.
A First Nation in Canada's Saskatchewan province has found the unmarked graves of 751 people at a now-defunct residential school, just weeks after a similar discovery in British Columbia rocked the country.
"As of yesterday, we have hit 751 unmarked graves" at the site of the former Marieval boarding school, Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme told reporters on Thursday.
"This is not a mass grave site. These are unmarked graves."
It is not clear how many of the remains detected belong to children, Delorme said.
"There are oral stories that there are adults in this gravesite, as well."
Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations said he expects more graves will be found on residential school grounds across Canada.
"This was a crime against humanity, an assault on First Nations," he said.
"We will not stop until we find all the bodies."
The Cowessess First Nation began its ground penetrating radar search on June 2.
Trudeau says need to acknowledge history of racism
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada needed to acknowledge its history of racism against Indigenous peoples in order to "build a better future" after a new discovery of unmarked graves.
He called the discoveries in British Columbia and Saskatchewan provinces "a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that indigenous peoples have faced –– and continue to face –– in this country."
"Together, we must acknowledge this truth, learn from our past, and walk the shared path of reconciliation, so we can build a better future," he said.
Kamloops unmarked graves
Marieval Indian Residential School operated from 1899 to 1997 where Cowessess is now located, about 87 miles east of Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan.
In a statement quoted by several Canadian media, including CBC and CTV, the native Cowessess community said it had made "the horrific and shocking discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves" during excavations at former Marieval boarding school.
Last month the remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were found buried on the site of what was once Canada's largest Indigenous residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia.
Truth-telling stories that governments never believed. Governments cannot put a number on these searches.— Sol Mamakwa MPP (@solmamakwa) June 24, 2021
Hurt. Sorrow. Heartbreak. Anger. These are some emotions of indigenous people across Canada.
Again, we are united in grief. https://t.co/v6UsNKjBY6
Forced conversion into Christianity
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a programme to assimilate them into Canadian society.
They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.
The Canadian government apologised in Parliament in 2008 and admitted that physical and sexual abuse in the schools was rampant.
Many students recall being beaten for speaking their native languages; they also lost touch with their parents and customs.
Indigenous leaders have cited that legacy of abuse and isolation as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations.