Less than a month after Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation found the remains of 215 undocumented children buried under a former residential school, Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba have confirmed other sites like it.
On Friday, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation near Brandon, Manitoba, said it’s working to identify 104 more children at multiple burial sites at the former Brandon Residential School, which operated from 1895 to 1972.
The community is working alongside multiple universities, including a research team at Simon Fraser University, to continue the investigation, which started back in 2012. Archival research and new technologies, including ground-penetrating radar, will help the team look for and identify remains going forward, Global News reported.
Muskowekwan First Nation, a community about one and a half hours north of Regina, Saskatchewan, confirmed last week it found the remains of 35 undocumented children at the site of former residential school Muscowequan and Touchwood. Another 35 unmarked graves were found at the former Regina Industrial School, as confirmed by the Regina Indian Industrial School Commemorative Association, an organization that cares for the cemetery at the site, CBC reported.
“We’re really worried about what’s going to be uncovered there. We’re trying to maintain a peaceful mind as we enter into it. You’re talking about children and lost families,” Neil Sasakamoose, executive director of Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs Inc., which represents six Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan, told CBC.
Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors have said for years that unmarked burial sites exist all over Canada.
“There are thousands of families across this country and in our Treaty territories that have been waiting for their children to come home,” said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, in a statement. There were about 20 federally run residential schools in Saskatchewan of 139 across the country.
Residential schools were used by the Canadian government to forcibly assimilate an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children. Students were systematically stripped away from their families and communities and forced to attend the schools, where they were often punished for speaking their Indigenous languages or expressing their identities. Sweeping abuses were common, and an estimated 4,000 to 15,000 children died.
So far, more than 4,100 children who died while attending residential school have been identified as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Missing Children Project, which documents the burial sites of children who died while at residential school.
In 2015, the TRC published 94 calls to action along with its findings, including six calls that explicitly reference unmarked graves and undocumented children who were killed at the schools.
“The most basic of questions about missing children—Who died? Why did they die? Where are they buried?—have never been addressed or comprehensively documented by the Canadian government,” according to the TRC.
Now, pressure is mounting on the government and churches to support thorough investigations into burial sites—and hold perpetrators, including themselves, to account.
‘I demand that all governments commit to supporting First Nations seeking thorough investigations into former residential school sites and to take any, and all action available to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions,” Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde said in a statement.
“All eyes are on First Nations as we attempt to digest the most recent evidence of the genocide against our people, our children.”
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Anyone experiencing distress or pain as a result of residential schools can call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419). It’s available 24/7.