The graves of more than 750 people have been found on the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, Canada.
The Marieval Indian School began operations in 1899 under the management of Catholic missionaries. The Federal Government funded the school in 1901 and took over administration in 1969.
It was handed to Cowessess First Nation in 1987 and eventually demolished in 1997.
According to Chief Cadmusn Delmore of the Cowessess First Nation, grave markers had been removed by people operating the school and both adults and children are believed to be buried on site.
“We didn’t remove the headstones. Removing headstones is a crime in this country … We are treating this like a crime scene,” said Chief Delmore.
“All we ask of all of you listening is that you stand by us as we heal and get stronger.
“We all must put down our ignorance and accidental racism of not addressing the truth that this country has with Indigenous people. We are not asking for pity, but we are asking for understanding.”
Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents all 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, described the findings at Marieval as a “crime against humanity, an assault of First Nations”.
“We will find more bodies … and we will not stop until we find all of our children,” he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement he was “terribly saddened” to learn of the unmarked graves. The Prime Minister acknowledged the pain felt by families, survivors and First Nations people.
“The hurt and the trauma that you feel is Canada’s responsibility to bear, and the Government will continue to provide Indigenous communities across the country with the funding and resources they need to bring these terrible wrongs to light,” he said.
“While we cannot bring back those who were lost, we can — and we will — tell the truth of these injustices, and we will forever honour their memory.
“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.”
The Catholic Archbishop of Regina Don Bolen apologised to Chief Delorme in a letter posted to on an archdiocesan website.
“The grave site work brings us face to face with the brutal legacy of the Indian Residential School system, a product of the colonialist history which has left so much suffering and intergenerational trauma,” he said.
The Archbishop offered his assistance in “accessing information that will help to provide names and information about those buried in unmarked graves”.
In the wake of the 215 bodies discovered at Kamloops, the Pope has urged religious and political parties to investigate the “sad affair”.
But the Pope is yet to respond to calls from Canadian First Nations and Prime Minister Trudeau for an apology on behalf of the Catholic Church.
“The Pope needs to apologise for what happened,” said Chief Delorme last month.
“An apology is one stage in the way of a healing journey.”
By Rachael Knowles