A First Nation in Canada’s Saskatchewan province is treating a now-defunct residential school as a “crime scene” following the discovery of 751 unmarked graves just weeks after a similar discovery in British Columbia prompted a fresh reckoning over the country’s colonial past.
Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation said that the graves were found on the site of the Marieval Indian residential school, also known as Grayson, after a search with ground-penetrating radar was launched on 2 June.
“This is not a mass grave site. These are unmarked graves,” said Delorme at a press conference on Thursday morning, adding that the discovery has “reopened the pain” that many suffered at the school. “The grave site is there. It is real.”
From the 19th century, more than 150,000 First Nations children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society.
The children were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and thousands died from disease, neglect and suicide.