‘The idea was to whiten the indigenous people’

Seven hundred fifty and fifty graves. No stone, no memorial. In the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, hundreds of graves were found likely to be native children who died at the nearby boarding school.

Exactly what happened needs to be explored, but the find is a reminder of a black page in Canadian history.

โ€œWhat were going to do now is name the unmarked graves,โ€ says Cadmus Delorme, a foreman of the indigenous people. โ€œWe want to honor our loved ones who are there right now. We want to make sure we keep that place. So many people can come here to heal.โ€

โ€œMake them like usโ€

From the late nineteenth century to the 70s of the twentieth, children of indigenous peoples were forced to be removed from parents to be westernized in special schools. They were converted to Christianity, had to learn their language and culture and swear allegiance to the Canadian nation. Government officials talked about the Indian problem at that time.

โ€œThe idea was to whiten the indigenous people,โ€ says Jeannette den Toonder of the Center for Canadian Studies. โ€œTo assimilate them with white Canadians and make them forget their whole background. The idea was: let them be like us.โ€

Its about 170,000 children in total. In boarding schools, about 6,000 children were likely to have died by abuse or neglect. There are also cases of sexual abuse. The number is completely uncertain: many archives have disappeared or are still kept secret by the church.


Boarding school experience experts talk about how hard they were treated. โ€œWhen I was in boarding school, I once experienced my sister being beaten by a nun,โ€ Cora Voyager says to CBC News. โ€œI heard screaming and crying behind the door. I was standing outside trying to enter the room to save her from the hands of a nun that seemed out of mind.โ€

Voyager calls it awful. โ€œSomeone you love gets beaten like that, and theres nothing you can do about it.โ€

Another witness tells how a boy hung herself in the bathroom. โ€œIt still gives me nightmares.โ€

โ€œMy Heart Breaksโ€

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau showed his sympathy about the find. โ€œMy heart breaks for the Cowesses First Nation after the discovery of indigenous children at the former Marieval Residential School,โ€ he wrote on Twitter. โ€œWe cant get them back, but we will honor the memory of them and we will tell the truth about these kinds of injustices.โ€

The Pope also responded to the find at Catholic School. He calls it a โ€œsad thing.โ€ What he didnt do was apologize, something that the First Nations in Canada do want to do. However, the Vatican considers the matter to be the responsibility of Canada, whose name it happened, not the Roman Catholic Church.

โ€œThe Pope must apologize for what happened at boarding school,โ€ says foreman Delorme. โ€œThose apologies will be one step in the long process of healing.โ€