In late June, an Indigenous group in Canada reported the discovery of 751 unmarked graves of mainly Indigenous children at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School. The bodies were not in a mass grave as the headstones had been removed, allegedly by members of the Catholic Church in the 1960s. The Marieval Indian Residential School operated from 1899 to about 1996 and was in its lifetime funded and managed by both the Canadian government and The Roman Catholic church. The NCTR (National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation) found that many of the children had succumbed to disease or had died of malnutrition.
All these children had been taken away from their families as a part of an assimilation program that forced them to learn about and practice Euro-American culture. Speaking Indigenous languages and taking part in their traditions was prohibited and physical violence was used to make sure these unjust rules were strictly followed.
The Marieval Indian Residential School is not the only place where such atrocities were committed. It was one of more than 130 boarding schools that were similarly funded by the Canadian government and run by religious authorities from the mid-18th century to mid-19th century. Many children that were forced to attend these schools never returned home and their families were given little to no information about what had happened to them.
While Pope Francis had made plans to meet with some survivors of these residential schools in December in order to properly make an apology, the Roman Catholic Church has been silent on the matter. Justin Trudeau promised national funding to assist groups looking for more graves after hearing about the discovery.
That being said, Church officials and the Canadian government reportedly did have records containing information about sites where students at the residential schools were buried. All these unmarked graves could possibly have been dug up decades ago. Currently, the Church officials and the state are fighting in court and are looking to prevent themselves from having to share these records.
This forced assimilation program is a reminder of the past injustices committed by Canada and other Western nations against Indigenous people. These unmarked graves It is essential that responsibility must be taken and that organisations involved in these heinous acts issue apologies and make reparations instead of trying to hide this dark past.