Local Indigenous leaders on Thursday demanded an inquiry into what they called a “genocide,” and called for the church and the government to turn over all records related to the administration of the schools.
Chief Cadmus Delorme, of the Cowessess First Nation, also called for Pope Francis to apologize, saying that the Roman Catholic Church needed to address its actions. Chief Delorme said that his Indigenous community, spurred by the discovery at Kamloops and in conjunction with technical teams from Saskatchewan Polytechnic, began combing the area using ground penetrating radar on June 2, hitting as many as 751 unmarked graves. He said he expected more bodies would be discovered.
For Canada’s 1.7 million Indigenous citizens, who make up about 4.9 percent of the population, the discovery of yet another mass burial site is a visceral reminder of centuries of discrimination and abuse, which has led to intergenerational trauma among survivors of residential schools and their families.
It is also a powerful vindication of their testimonies. While the recent findings have intensified attention to the issue, Indigenous people had been suggesting for decades through their oral histories that thousands of children had disappeared from the schools, but had often been met with skepticism. “There’s no denying this: All of the stories told by our survivors are true,” Chief Cameron said.
The latest findings are likely to deepen the nation’s debate over its history of exploiting Indigenous people and refocus attention on the horrors of the schools, a stain in the history of Canada, a country which has often been perceived, fairly or not, as a bastion of progressivism and multiculturalism.
Florence Sparvier, 80, an elder of the Cowessess First Nation, said she attended two residential schools, including Marieval, the school where the unmarked remains were found.
“They were very condemning about our people,” she said of the nuns at the schools. “They told us our people, our parents, our grandparents didn’t have a way to be spiritual because we were all heathens.”