Hundreds of unmarked graves thought to belong to indigenous Canadians have been found underneath a school, in the latest grim discovery of its kind to rock the country.
Leaders of indigenous groups in Canada have called on the Pope to apologise following the find in Saskatchewan, with the Roman Catholic Church suspected of removing headstones.
As many as 751 bodies were discovered where the Cowessess First Nation is now located, at the Marieval Indian Residential School – which operated from 1899 to 1997 – about 85 miles east of state capital Regina.
A search with ground-penetrating radar resulted in 751 ‘hits’, indicating that at least 600 bodies were buried in the area, Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess said.
It comes after a similar find last month involving hundreds more children – and with Indigenous groups bracing themselves for further bodies being uncovered at other Canadian schools.
One leader predicted that Canada would become known as a country that tried to ‘exterminate’ its indigenous people.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was ‘terribly saddened’ by the new discovery and told indigenous people that ‘the hurt and the trauma that you feel is Canada’s responsibility to bear.’
The radar operators say their results in the latest discovery could have a margin of error of 10%.
Mr Delorme explained: ‘We want to make sure when we tell our story that we’re not trying to make numbers sound bigger than they are.
‘I like to say over 600, just to be assured.’
It is also not clear how many of the remains detected belong to children, Mr Delorme told reporters.
He explained that the search is ongoing and a technical team will assess the radar hits to verify the numbers in the coming weeks.
Mr Delmore added that the graves were marked at one time, but that the Roman Catholic Church that operated the school had removed the markers.
‘The Pope needs to apologise for what happened,’ he said.
‘An apology is one stage in the way of a healing journey.’
Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations in Saskatchewan, added: ‘Canada will be known as a nation who tried to exterminate the First Nations. Now we have evidence.
‘This is just the beginning.
‘This was a crime against humanity, an assault on First Nations.’
He said he expects more graves will be found on residential school grounds across Canada.
‘We will not stop until we find all the bodies,’ Mr Cameron said.
Last month, the remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were found buried on the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia.German football stadiums defy UEFA by lighting up with pride colours
Following that discovery, Pope Francis expressed his pain over the discovery and pressed religious and political authorities to shed light on ‘this sad affair.’
But he did not offer the apology that the First Nations and Canadian government had hoped for.
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools, the majority of them run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, in a campaign to assimilate them into Canadian society.
The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages.
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