According to the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, at least 750 unmarked graves have been discovered on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Canada.
The discovery was made days after Indigenous leaders began using radar to search the school grounds on June 1, according to Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme, who spoke to reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
According to Delorme, the search team did not discover a mass grave. The headstones or markers for the hundreds of graves, they believe, were deliberately removed.
“The number of unmarked graves will be the most significantly substantial to date in Canada,” the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said on Wednesday.
“This was a crime against humanity, an assault on First Nations,” Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations during the press conference. “We are proud people, the only crime we ever committed as children was being born Indigenous.”
Indigenous peoples would not stop until all of the victims’ “bodies” were discovered, he added.
“The world is watching Canada as we unearth the findings of genocide. We had concentration camps here, we had them here in Canada, in Saskatchewan. They were called Indian residential schools. Canada will be known as a nation who tried to exterminate the First Nations, now we have evidence,” Chief Cameron said.
The discovery comes after the bodies of 215 children were discovered near another boarding school in Canada in late May, and as the country grapples with its dark history with Indigenous people.
Officials from the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada, said last month that children as young as three years old were buried on the school grounds.
The findings at both former boarding schools “reaffirm the truth” of what families, survivors, and Indigenous communities “have long known,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, adding that the government will continue to provide funding and resources to bring them to justice “these terrible wrongs to light.”
“They are a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced — and continue to face — in this country. 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,” Trudeau said in a statement.
Florence Sparvier, a Cowessess First Nation elder and knowledge keeper, said her parents were threatened with jail time if they did not enroll their children in the Marieval School.
“They were putting us down as a people, so we learned how to not like who we were and that has gone on and on and it’s still going on,” said Sparvier during Thursday’s press conference.
Sparvier claims that children were taught how to assimilate and become Roman Catholics while rejecting their own spirituality and culture.
“We learned, and they pounded it into us, and really they were very mean, when I say pounding, I mean pounding,” Sparvier added.
The Oblates, two Catholic religious orders that were involved in the operation of many of Canada’s residential schools, including those in Marieval and Kamloops, issued a statement this week stating that they intend to release all historical documents related to their involvement.
“We remain deeply sorry for our involvement in residential schools and the harms they brought to Indigenous peoples and communities,” the statement reads.
According to the Oblates, they have worked with universities, archives, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to make historical documents available.