An Indigenous group in western Canada says it has discovered evidence of possible unmarked graves and a piece of a child's jawbone in the premises of a former residential school, shining a light on generations of oppression against them.
According to the Star Blanket Cree community, nearly “2,000 areas of interest” were uncovered by ground-penetrating radar in the province of Saskatchewan that it asserted needs to be thoroughly investigated.
Although not yet confirmed to be evidence of human remains, project lead Sheldon Poitras on Thursday described the fragment "as the "physical proof of an unmarked grave".
Canadian authorities have been accused of forcibly separating thousands of Indigenous children from their families for more than 100 years and making them attend residential schools, in order to sever their cultural ties and assimilate them into white Canadian society.
Around 150,000 natives or First Nations children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to residential schools. The schools were rife with physical abuse, rape, malnutrition, and other atrocities against the children.
Over the past year and a half, more than 1,300 child graves have been found near government-run compulsory boarding schools in Canada where Indigenous children were forcibly assimilated.
The discoveries have sent shockwaves through the country and raised national awareness of the dark past of how Indigenous people were treated.
Poitras and his team also discovered a fragment of a child's jawbone dating back 125 years, proving that there was an unmarked grave in the area.
Michael Starr, the leader of the community, lamented the rediscovery of unmarked graves and said: “Our hearts are heavy today, it was unthinkable.”
The Search areas near the Catholic-run residential school, which operated until 1998, were chosen on the advice of former students, reports said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his remarks on Thursday termed it regrettable, admitting that "the work is just beginning" and promising the government would help.
“The finding of human remains of a very young child at the site of Lebret Residential School is not only a tragic reminder of Canada’s painful history and of the heinous acts that were committed in residential schools, but it’s also further proof of that,” said Marc Miller, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations.
A 2015 investigation into Canada's residential school network concluded that the Canadian government and church had pursued a policy of "cultural genocide" against the country's rightful owners, bringing back the shameful chapter of Canadian history.
The documents revealed that many students lost their lives from exposure to outbreaks of measles, tuberculosis, influenza and other contagious diseases.
Over 4100 children who died due to disease or in accidents at schools have been identified to date. They were often buried in unmarked graves, without identification or notice to their parents.
Moreover, while the residential schools may be closed, Indigenous children continue to be separated from their families in disproportionate numbers.
According to the country's census data, in 2016, more than 52 percent of children in foster care were Indigenous, which is while Indigenous children only made up 7.7 percent of Canada's foster children in care population.
This systematic discrimination against Indigenous people in Canada has existed for decades. Despite making up just 5 percent of the country's population, almost 30 percent of the country's prisoners are believed to be Indigenous.