A First Nation in Canada says it has discovered 93 potential gravesites on the grounds of a former residential school.

Iran PressAmerica: The discovery of mass graves of children in Canada has brought the country under pressure; the graves have belonged to the children of Canadian-indigenous who were separated from their parents during the 1890s to 1970s and were entrusted to the Catholic churches' boarding schools. 

The main purpose of this project was to distance these children from indigenous Canadian communities, prevent the promotion of their mother tongue and traditions, and raise them based on the imposed Canadian standards. 

Many of these children have lost their lives in the process due to suicide, fires, working hard, rape, frostbite, and while trying to escape from the schools.

The chief and council of Williams Lake First Nation said that a preliminary search of St Joseph’s Mission Residential School had revealed “potential human burials” in a small portion of the school’s sprawling grounds.

“This journey has led our investigation team into the darkest recesses of human behavior,” said Kúkpi7 (chief) Willie Sellars.

The school operated in the province of British Columbia between 1891 and 1981 and has a dark history of abuse. Many students ran away and others tried to kill themselves. One child died of exposure in the wilderness after fleeing.

“At the time, the coroner’s service and RCMP saw no reason to investigate the death as the child was ‘only an Indian’,” Sellars said.

He said the investigation had exacted a heavy on toll survivors.

“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,” he said.

Sellars said the investigation had found evidence of children’s bodies being disposed of in nearby rivers and lakes and evidence the school’s incinerator had been used to dispose of children. Murray Sinclair, who led the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, previously told the Guardian of similar reports.

Canada’s legacy of residential schools has come under renewed scrutiny since the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation announced last May that it had discovered what was believed to be more than 200 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian residential school.

Over more than a century, at least 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend the schools, many of which were run by the Catholic church. Children were forcibly converted to Christianity, given new names, and were prohibited from speaking their native languages. The last residential school closed in the 1990s.

Only a portion of the 470 hectares has been searched. Of the 93 potential graves identified, 50 were outside the school’s cemetery, said Whitney Spearing, the lead investigator.

“It must be emphasized that no geophysical investigation can provide certainty into the presence of human remains,” she said. “Excavation is the only technique that will provide answers as to whether human remains are present.”

Sellars said the community would hold discussions over whether to excavate the sites, a fraught question that many nations across Canada are dealing with.

But Tuesday’s announcement validated the stories of survivors, he said.

“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,” he said.“For the bulk of St Joseph’s Mission’s history, these reports were at best given no credence.”