Hundreds of unmarked graves found at school for indigenous children

24 June 2021, 23:02 | Updated: 25 June 2021, 00:12

A memorial has been set up at the site of a former Kamloops residential school
A memorial has been set up at the site of a former Kamloops residential school. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

More than 750 unmarked graves have been found at the site of a former residential school for indigenous children in Canada.

Investigators discovered hundreds of bodies at the Marieval Indian Residential School site, which operated from 1899 to 1997, leaders of indigenous groups said.

Teams searched the area - where the Cowessess First Nation is now located, roughly 85 miles east of Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan - with ground-penetrating radar.

The devices detected 751 unmarked graves, suggesting that at least 600 people were buried in the area, Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation said.

His First Nation said the discovery was "the most significantly substantial to date in Canada".

Mr Delorme added that the radar operators have said their results could have a 10 per cent margin for error.

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A vigil was held for the 215 children whose bodies were found buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School
A vigil was held for the 215 children whose bodies were found buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Picture: PA

"We want to make sure when we tell our story that we're not trying to make numbers sound bigger than they are," Mr Delorme said.

"I like to say over 600, just to be assured."

The discovery comes just weeks after the remains of 215 children were found at a similar residential school in British Columbia.

Mr Delorme said the search is ongoing and that the radar 'hits' will be assessed by a technical team. He added that the numbers will be verified in the coming weeks.

The graves once had marks on them, he said, before explaining that the Roman Catholic Church that operated the school had the markers removed.

"The Pope needs to apologise for what happened," he said, before adding: "An apology is one stage in the way of a healing journey."

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A makeshift memorial at the Kamloops site
A makeshift memorial at the Kamloops site. Picture: PA

"This was a crime against humanity, an assault on First Nations," Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations in Saskatchewan said.

He added that he expects more graves will be discovered on residential school grounds across Canada.

"We will not stop until we find all the bodies," he said.

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.

Following that discovery, Pope Francis expressed his pain over the discovery and urged religious and political authorities to shed light on "this sad affair".

However, he did not offer the apology sought by First Nations and by the Canadian Government.

From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools, the majority of them run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, in a campaign to assimilate them into Canadian society.

The Canadian Government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages.