The discovery of hundreds of graves of Indigenous children is forcing a deeper reckoning with the country’s past
It is hard to fathom the full horror of what happened in Canada’s church-run residential schools for over a century: systematic abuse and mistreatment, on an industrial scale, with an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children ripped from their homes. The last school closed in 1996. Thousands have since testified to widespread sexual and physical abuse, forced labour on starvation rations, the eradication of their language and culture, and diseases allowed to run rampant. Some witnesses even spoke of killings. The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report called it cultural genocide.
But it has taken the discovery of hundreds of children’s bodies to fully awaken Canada. Last week, 751 unmarked graves were found at a former school in Saskatchewan province, weeks after 215 were located in Kamloops, British Columbia. Murray Sinclair, who led the TRC, suggests as many as 15,000 died: one in 10 of the students. Since the state funded over 130 schools, and many more were run by churches, others believe the toll could be much higher.