Hundreds More Unmarked Graves Of Children Discovered At Former Indigenous School In Canada

Published June 25, 2021
Updated March 12, 2024

The discovery comes just weeks after more than 200 children were found buried at a different former boarding school in Canada.

Marieval Indian Residential School

St. Boniface Historical SocietyMarieval Indian Residential School

For decades, a terrible question has haunted Indigenous people in Canada. Where did the children go? Thousands were forced to enroll at religious schools in the 20th century. And thousands never came home. Now, the discovery of as many as 751 bodies at a former school has confirmed what many families long feared.

Using ground-penetrating radar, the Cowessess First Nation came across hundreds of bodies — mainly children — on the grounds of the since-demolished Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.

“This was a crime against humanity, an assault on First Nations,” said Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations.

“We are proud people, the only crime we ever committed as children was being born Indigenous.”

Searching For Remains

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous NationsSearchers found the remains using ground-penetrating radar.

The heartbreaking find at Marieval Indian Residential School comes on the heels of another shocking discovery — the bodies of 251 children at Kamloops Indian Residential School, which were found by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation in May 2021

Both have underlined the horrific legacy of Indigenous schools in Canada. From 1883 to 1996, Canadian officials forcibly removed nearly 150,000 Indigenous children from their families. They sent them to one of more than 100 schools, where the children faced systemic abuse and were banned from speaking their native languages.

Indigenous Boarding Schools
History Uncovered Podcast
Episode 34: The Horrors Of Indigenous Boarding Schools
With scores of human remains recently unearthed, Canada and the U.S. are beginning to come to terms with the atrocities committed at boarding schools for Indigenous children in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“They were putting us down as a people, so we learned how to not like who we were and that has gone on and on and it’s still going on,” said Cowessess First Nation Elder and Knowledge Keeper Florence Sparvier, whose parents were threatened with jail if they didn’t send their children to Marieval.

Marieval Students

St. Boniface Historical SocietyStudents at Marieval school.

“We learned, and they pounded it into us, and really they were very mean, when I say pounding, I mean pounding.”

After the discovery at Kamloops, the Cowessess First Nation wanted to conduct a search of their own. They used ground-penetrating radar technology to scour the grounds of Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997. And within days, they came across bodies.

“This is not a mass gravesite. These are unmarked graves,” said Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme. The Cowessess suspect that the Roman Catholic Church, which had operated Marieval and many other Indigenous schools, removed any gravestones.

Kamloops Shrine

Cole Burston/AFP via Getty ImagesA shrine at Kamloops.

For decades, former students have told stories of the horrors they witnessed at Indigenous schools. Some have claimed that babies born to girls impregnated by priests were incinerated. Others describe an atmosphere of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.

“They made us believe we didn’t have souls,” said Sparvier.

In recent years, Canada has tried to make amends. The country offered a formal apology in 2008 for “cultural genocide.” And a 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report estimated that some 4,000 children may have died in Indigenous schools, from neglect, diseases, and accidents.

However, Murray Sinclair, an Indigenous judge who led the commission, believes that that number is likely much higher. He now estimates that “well beyond 10,000” Indigenous children died.

In light of such discoveries, Indigenous people want an official apology from the Catholic Church. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, has also encouraged the Church to apologize.

But although an apology would be welcome, it would not erase the horror of what happened in Canada. For decades, children — some as young as three years old — died at Indigenous schools. They never came home, and their parents never knew what had happened to them.

Plus, the discovery of bodies at Marieval and Kamloops suggests that other schools hid similar horrors.

“You can see with your plain eye the indent of the ground where these bodies are to be found,” said Cameron, who has visited multiple school sites since the discovery of bodies at Kamloops. “These children are sitting there, waiting to be found.”

He’s determined to bring their story — and the story of Indigenous people in Canada — to light.

“The world is watching Canada as we unearth the findings of genocide,” Cameron said. “We had concentration camps here, we had them here in Canada, in Saskatchewan.”

“Canada will be known as a nation who tried to exterminate the First Nations — now we have evidence.”

After reading about the discovery of 751 bodies at an Indigenous school in Canada, learn about the shocking Bath school disaster. Or, look through these photos of Inuit people before and after Canada upended their way of life.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "Hundreds More Unmarked Graves Of Children Discovered At Former Indigenous School In Canada.", June 25, 2021, Accessed June 23, 2024.