An indigenous group in Canada announced Thursday (24) the discovery of anonymous graves of 751 people in a former Catholic boarding school in the province of Saskatchewan.
Less than a month ago, the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found in British Columbia and reignited debates over race and the role of the Catholic Church in what has been called “cultural genocide” .
According to Cadmus Delorme, chief of the Cowessess, one of Canada’s so-called First Nations, it is not yet possible to say how many newly found bodies are children. He stressed that it was not a mass grave, but he called the place of the new discovery, Marieval’s school, a “crime scene”.
“Removing headstones is a crime in this country. We don’t remove headstones,” Delorme said, accusing the church of breaking the law by removing identity documents.
For Bobby Cameron, head of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations, recent findings are proof that Canada will be recognized as a nation that has attempted to exterminate its Indigenous peoples.
The Cowessess have contacted local Catholic leaders and Delorme has expressed optimism that the church will provide records that will allow identification of the bodies. “They haven’t told us ‘no’, we just don’t have them yet.”
The discovery in May of the bodies of 215 children in Kamloops led the Cowessesses to search the area where Marieval School was located, using underground radar, before it was demolished.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement in which he said he was “terribly sad” over Thursday’s announcement. To families, survivors and the entire indigenous community, the prime minister said the responsibility for their pain and trauma lies with the state and pledged to continue providing resources to “bring these to light. terrible mistakes “.
“While we cannot bring back those who are lost, we can – and we will – speak the truth about these injustices, and we will forever honor their memory.”
Trudeau said the discoveries at 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. And together we must recognize this truth, learn from our past and share a path of reconciliation so that we can build a better future.
Residential schools for Indigenous peoples operated in the country between 1831 and 1996, with funding from the Canadian government and the administration of various Christian denominations, primarily the Catholic Church.
The Kamloops school was once the largest residential school in Canada, with 500 students at its peak. It was administered by Catholic rulers from 1890 to 1969, before coming back under federal government control until it closed in 1978. Marieval’s office operated between 1899 and 1997, before being demolished two years later. .
About 150,000 children from different indigenous communities have been forcibly separated from their families and distributed to hundreds of institutions across the country, where they have been prevented from maintaining their customs, studying the culture of indigenous peoples or even speak their mother tongue.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a group formed to investigate what was going on in these schools, called the system a “cultural genocide.” Reports indicate that children have been victims of violence, abuse, rape and malnutrition. The official estimate is at least 4,100 deaths.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis expressed sorrow for Indigenous children killed in Canada, but his speech fell short of expectations that, as head of the Catholic Church, the Pontiff would apologize official.
Francisco limited himself to advising Catholic religious leaders and Canadian politicians to “cooperate with determination” to shed light on the discovery of the bodies and seek reconciliation and healing. For him, the latest events “further increase the understanding of the pain and suffering of the past” and are a call for reflection.
Last week, however, the Canadian Prime Minister – who during a papal visit in 2017 told Francis that a pardon from the church could speed up reconciliation – said he was ready to take “more action. strong “, possibly legal actions, if the Vatican responsibility” and make public the documents and records of the school administration.
“As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed with the position the Catholic Church has taken now and in recent years,” Trudeau said, adding that more drastic actions against the Holy See would be a last resort. , I have high hopes that religious leaders will understand that this is something they need to get involved in. “