REGINA, Saskatchewan — A Canadian Indigenous group on Wednesday announced the “horrific and shocking discovery” of the remains of hundreds of children at the site of a former school in the province of Saskatchewan, the largest such discovery to date.
It came weeks after the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves on the grounds of another former boarding school in British Columbia.
Both schools were part of a system that took Indigenous children in the country from their families, sometimes by force, and housed them in boarding schools. A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission called the practice “cultural genocide.” Many children never returned home, and their families were given only vague explanations of their fates, or none at all.
In a statement, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations did not give an exact figure but said that the latest remains numbered in the hundreds and were “the most significantly substantial to date in Canada.”
The discovery was made by the Cowessess First Nation at the Marieval Indian Residential School, about 87 miles from the city of Regina. The federation’s chief, Bobby Cameron, said that the group planned a formal announcement on Thursday.
The latest findings are likely to deepen the nation’s debate over its history of exploiting Indigenous people. The discoveries will refocus attention on the horrors of the schools where sexual, physical and emotional abuse were common, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found.
The investigations into the fate of the missing children are also a vindication for Canada’s Indigenous people, whose oral histories suggesting that thousands of children had disappeared from the schools had often been met with skepticism.
The remains of the 215 children were discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia through the use of ground-penetrating radar. Much like a M.R.I. scan, the technology produces images of anomalies in the soil.
An official at the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said the latest analysis began about three weeks ago, not long after the announcement of preliminary findings about the Kamloops school by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.
The search at the Kamloops school is still continuing, and the First Nation leaders say that they expected a final report would increase the number of graves found.
Like Kamloops, the Marieval school, which opened in 1899, was operated for most of its history by the Roman Catholic Church for the government of Canada. A marked cemetery still exists on the grounds of the school, which closed in 1997 and was subsequently demolished.