A Saskatchewan First Nation says it has discovered 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school, marking the largest discovery of such remains in Canadian history to date.
Chief Cadmus Delorme of Cowessess First Nation, a roughly two hour drive east of Regina, revealed details of the “horrific and shocking discovery” near what was once the Marieval Indian Residential School, during a press conference Thursday morning.
“It’s going to hurt in the coming months because the more we put names to them, the more that it is going to reopen some of the pains that many endured at the Marieval Residential School,” Delorme said.
“We are not asking for pity, but we are asking for understanding. We need time to heal, and this country must stand by us.”
The remains are in unmarked graves in a communal gravesite first used in 1885 but eventually taken over by the Marieval Indian Residential School, founded and operated by the Roman Catholic Church beginning in 1899 on what was then the Marieval Reserve.
Administration of the school was handed over to the federal government in 1969 and then the Cowessess First Nation in 1987 before being closed in 1997. Everything but the church, rectory and cemetery was demolished shortly after, according to National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation records. The First Nation teamed up with an underground radar detection team from Saskatchewan Polytechnic to begin the search just over three weeks ago.
The discovery comes less than a month after the “unthinkable” discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children — some as young as three years old — in unmarked graves near the Kamloops Indian Residential School outside Kamloops, B.C.