Hundreds of unmarked graves, many believed to be of children, have been found on the site of another former church residential school in Canada.
The graves are located near the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), which represents 74 nations in the province, said in a news release Wednesday.
The federation did not give a specific number, but said, “The number of unmarked graves will be the most significant in Canada to date.”
Cowesss Indigenous Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme is expected to reveal details of the “horrific and shocking discovery” as well as the latest count of newly identified remains during a news conference Thursday morning.
The development comes a month after a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children was discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, reopening old wounds among Indigenous people in Canada.
Experts warned at the time that the discovery was likely just the beginning.
According to a source with knowledge of the discovery, the total number of graves found near Marieval is expected to be more than three times that of the 215 recently discovered in Kamloops.
The latest findings came after an Indigenous Nation team partnered with an underground radar detection team from Saskatchewan Polytechnic to begin the search a little more than three weeks ago.
Delorme told the Leader-Post newspaper in an interview in late May that he did not know how many human remains might be discovered. It is estimated that only one-third of the graves have been marked.
“The pain is real, the pain is there and the pain is not gone. As we heal, every Cowess citizen has a family member in that gravesite. Knowing there are unmarked [graves] continues the pain,” Delorme said, adding that the goal is to “identify, mark and build a memorial to honor and recognize the bodies that were (there).”
Marieval Indian Residential School was founded and operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1899 to 1997 and was located about 165 kilometers east of Regina. Administration of the school was transferred to the federal government in 1969 and to the Cowesss First Nation in 1987 before it closed in 1997.
According to the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), everything except the church, parsonage and cemetery was demolished shortly thereafter.
James Daschuk, a health and Indigenous history researcher at the University of Regina, welcomed Delorme’s decision to continue these searches despite what are likely to be “horrific” results.
“As terrible as it is, and I mean absolutely terrible, what we’re seeing is the community taking back their history,” Daschuk said in an interview Wednesday.
“I think this is going to be a pretty important time for healing for the affected communities. But this should also be a serious time for all Canadians to reflect and then act,” he added.
The 2015 report by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) found that at least 3,200 Indigenous children died while attending residential schools and that the general practice was “not to send the bodies of students who died in schools to their home communities.”
Canada’s residential school system forcibly separated more than 150,000 First Nations children from their families between 1831 and 1996. Many of the children separated from their homes by the church school system were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition. In 2008, the Canadian government issued an official apology.