From top: Murray Sinclair, a former judge and senator who led Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission; Cross Lake Indian Residential School in Manitoba in 1940
The discovery in Canada of nearly 1,000 bodies in unmarked graves at two former residential schools for Indigenous children has set off a search for further burial sites.
Last Thursday, the Cowessess First Nation announced the discovery of what are believed to be 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School on southern Saskatchewan.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children are believed to have attended one of about 150 residential schools that operated between the 1880s and 1996 run by either the Catholic Oblates Order of Mary Immaculate or the Church Missionary Society of the Anglican Church (Church of England).
Children were forcibly converted to Christianity, given new names and were prohibited from speaking their native languages, according to testimony given at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which in 2015 concluded that the residential school system amounted to cultural genocide.
Via The Guardian:
Murray Sinclair who led the commission and a member of the Peguis First Nation, said:
“We need to know who died, we need to know how they died, we need to know who was responsible for their deaths or for their care at the time that they died. We need to know why the families weren’t informed. And we need to know where the children are buried.
“We’ve heard stories from survivors who witnessed children being put to death, particularly infants born in the schools who had been fathered by a priest. Many survivors told us that they witnessed those children, those infants, being either buried alive or killed – and sometimes being thrown into furnaces. Those stories need to be checked out.”
On Friday, the Catholic Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which operated 48 schools, including the Marieval Indian residential school at Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and the Kamloops Indian residential school, said it would release all documents in its possession.
“We remain deeply sorry for our involvement in residential schools and the harms they brought to Indigenous peoples and communities,” the order said a statement. “We further acknowledge that delays can cause ongoing distrust, distress, and trauma to Indigenous peoples.”
Sinclair said that church and government officials had repeatedly claimed the records have been destroyed or lost. Even when the church handed over documents to the commission, key names and locations were redacted, rendering the documents “useless” for research purposes, he said.
Two more Catholic churches on reserves in British Columbia’s southern Interior burned down Saturday morning.
Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief Keith Crow says he received a call at about 4 a.m. PT that the Chopaka church was on fire. By the time he arrived about 30 minutes later, it had burned to the ground.