For the second time in a month, the remains of children have been discovered underneath a former “residential school” in Canada.
The nation’s system of residential schools were designed to “replace Indigenous values, beliefs, and understandings of the world with those of the European colonizers.” That meant converting students to Christianity. It was a form of cultural genocide. Many students were believed to be malnourished and abused at these schools. Many were sick. The schools were often unsanitary. Rather than treat the children and help them, they were left for dead. It didn’t end a long time ago, either; the last government-funded residential school in Canada didn’t close until 1996.
A few weeks ago, on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School (in British Columbia), which didn’t close until 1969, the First Nation tribe announced that preliminary radar analysis had uncovered the remains of 215 children who were buried there, some as young as 3.
Now there’s a different case with a larger body count: This time, we’re talking about the remains of 751 people at a former school in Saskatchewan.
Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said the discovery was made near the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in the southeastern corner of the prairie province, confirming the stories of Indigenous elders and residential school survivors who long told stories of a burial site there.
That news rekindled pleas for accountability from the Catholic entities that ran most of the schools, fueled calls for the removal of monuments to the Canadian leaders who set up the residential school system and sparked new criticism of the progress that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made toward reconciliation — a goal he pledged would be at the center of his government’s agenda.
We don’t know how or why these children died, but the possibilities are disturbing. These Catholic schools were known for abusing children physically, sexually, and emotionally. The technology used to arrive that that number has an error rate “ranging from 10 to 15 percent” and it’s not clear if only children were buried there, but the science appears to confirm anecdotes that have been passed down for decades.
Making matters worse, the Catholic institutions that controlled these schools are not fully cooperating with investigations, making it difficult to identify whose bodies may have been buried there. At least 150,000 Indigenous children went to these kinds of schools. There’s very little doubt that more gravesites will be discovered soon. The Canadian government is even helping fund that process:
On Tuesday, the federal government announced that it would provide just under 4.9 million Canadian dollars (about $3.9 million) to Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan to search for graves. The provincial government previously committed 2 million Canadian dollars ($1.6 million).
Whatever the cost, how many more gravesites like this are going to be found before the Catholic Church takes any kinds of responsibility for their cruelty? Pope Francis has explicitly refused to apologize for these schools.
It’s unbelievable that U.S. bishops are debating whether Joe Biden should receive communion due to his support of pro-choice policies while, in Canada, the Church has been implicated in these mass deaths. To pretend like the Catholic Church has any sort of moral high ground when their history is full of bigotry, abuse, and killings is just incredible hypocrisy for an institution that simply can’t be trusted to do the right thing.
(Image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were published earlier)