93 potential human graves found at Canada’s former indigenous school

In this file photo taken on Nov 17, 2020, a
memorial for Saint-Marc-de-Figuery residential school student at the site of the former school near Amos, Canada. (MARION THIBAUT / AFP)

VANCOUVER – A geophysical survey has uncovered 93 sites of "potential human burials" at a former indigenous residential school in British Columbia, Canada, according to the local indigenous Williams Lake First Nation Tuesday afternoon.

The 93 possible burial sites were found at the former grounds of St Joseph's Mission Residential School in Williams Lake of British Columbia province by a recent geophysical survey, which used ground-penetrating radar to reveal the existence of the potential graves.

An estimated 150,000 indigenous children across Canada were removed from their homes and forced to attend residential schools between the 1890s and as recently as 1996, during which more than 50,000 died of abuse

"For decades there were reports of neglect and abuse at the St Joseph's Mission, and worse, there were reports of children dying or disappearing from the facility," Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

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"Our team has recorded not only stories regarding the murder and disappearance of children and infants, but they have also listened to countless stories of systematic torture, starvation, rape and sexual assault of children at St Joseph's Mission," Sellars said.

The findings from the school are considered preliminary, and more information is expected as the ongoing investigation continues. So far, only 14 out of 470 hectares on the sprawling property have been searched.

Whitney Spearing, who led the investigation, said at the press conference that 50 of the 93 potential graves were found outside the school's cemetery.

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"All of them display varying characteristics indicative of potential human burials," Spearing explained, adding excavation is the only technique to confirm whether human remains are present.

Last year saw discoveries of 751 unmarked graves on the school grounds at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan province, more than 160 unmarked graves around the Kuper Island Industrial School, the remains of 215 indigenous children in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School and 182 at the former St Eugene's Mission School in British Columbia.

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An estimated 150,000 indigenous children across Canada were removed from their homes and forced to attend residential schools between the 1890s and as recently as 1996, during which more than 50,000 died of abuse.