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Finding graves at Indigenous boarding school is a “shameful reminder” of racism in Canada, Says Trudeau

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday Canada needed to acknowledge its history of racism against indigenous peoples to “build a better future” after a new discovery of nameless graves at a former boarding school for indigenous youth.

Trudeau called the discovery of the Saskatchewan site was “absolutely tragic” and “a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that indigenous peoples have faced, and continue to face, in this country.”

“Together, we must acknowledge this truth, learn from our past, and walk the shared path of reconciliation, so we can build a better future,” he added.

“Canada is responsible” for the “pain and trauma” suffered by indigenous communities, said the prime minister, who once again promised financial and material assistance to investigate these dire injustices.

“If we cannot bring back those we lost, we can tell the truth about the evil they suffered, and we will,” he promised.

The revelation once again cast a spotlight on a dark chapter in Canada’s history and revived calls on the Pope and the church to apologize for the abuse and violence suffered at the schools, where indigenous students were forcibly assimilated into the country’s dominant culture.

Excavations at the Marieval school, about 150 kilometres (90 miles) east of the provincial capital Regina, began at the end of May, after the discovery of the remains of 215 schoolchildren at another former indigenous residential school in British Columbia.

After the discovery of the remains at the Kamloops school, excavations were undertaken near several former institutions for indigenous children across Canada, with the assistance of government authorities.

Some 150,000 Native American, Metis and Inuit children were forcibly recruited until the 1990s in 139 of these residential schools across Canada, where they were isolated from their families, their language and their culture.

Many were subjected to ill-treatment and sexual abuse, and more than 4,000 died in the schools, according to a commission of inquiry that concluded Canada had committed “cultural genocide” against the indigenous communities. 

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the discovery of the Saskatchewan site was “absolutely tragic, but not surprising”.

“I urge all Canadians to stand with First Nations in this extremely difficult and emotional time,” Bellegarde said.

© Cole Barston, AFP/Archives

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