Montreal: – An Indigenous community in Canada's Saskatchewan province has discovered 54 unmarked graves on the grounds of two former residential schools, the latest such shocking discovery over the past year.
Keeseekoose First Nation said the graves were found near Fort Pelly and St Phillip's residential schools.
Ted Quewezance, who is leading the Keeseekoose First Nation's search for graves using ground-penetrating radar near Fort Pelly and St Phillip's residential schools, disclosed the findings at a press conference.
"Canadians still cannot believe a human being could treat another human being, especially a child, like the way we were treated," he said, holding back tears.
The two schools were run by the Catholic Church on behalf of the federal government -- St Phillip's from 1905 to 1913 and Fort Pelly from 1928 to 1969.
The latest discovery comes amid a wave that has triggered a national debate over the residential school system.
Indigenous investigations across the country have found evidence of more than 1,100 graves since last spring.
Chief Lee Kitchemonia suggested the children "could potentially have been, you know, murdered," saying more investigation is needed.
He added that the community faces a "very tough time" ahead coming to grips with the finds, adding that "we passed by them (daily), never realizing there were graves there."
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe in a Facebook post said "Saskatchewan mourns with you" as the Keeseekoose First Nation experiences "the same shock and despair as other First Nations across the country."
In total, some 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were enrolled from the late 1800s to the 1990s in these residential schools, set up to forcibly assimilate the country's Indigenous peoples.
Spending months or years isolated from their families, many students were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers who stripped them of their culture and language.
A truth and reconciliation commission documented abuses at the schools and the deaths of more than 4,000 students mostly from malnutrition, disease and suicide -- in a 2015 report calling it "cultural genocide."
Since May 2021, more than 1,300 graves have been discovered.