Around 1,000 Indigenous child victims found in Canada in less than a month

June 25, 2021 - 19:34

TEHRAN – In less than a month, Canada has unearthed yet another mass grave of Indigenous people who fell victim to the country’s racist policies in the not-so-distant past.

Bodies of 751 Indigenous children were discovered in unmarked graves at a former Indigenous residential school in southern Saskatchewan, less than four weeks after a mass grave was found at Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school.

Members of the Cowessess First Nation and Canada's Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations (FSIN) said that the graves were found at the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan province, according to press reports. The former school, which operated between 1899 to 1997, is located close to where the Cowessess now reside, some 140 kilometers (87 miles) east of the provincial capital Regina, DW reported, adding, The First Nation, who took control of the school's cemetery in 1970, followed calls to investigate all former Indigenous residential schools for possible unmarked graves.

The uncovered graves are said to have been marked at first, but their markers were removed by the Roman Catholic Church, which operated the school, according to Chief Cadmusn Delmore of the Cowessess.

“The pope needs to apologize for what happened,” he said. “An apology is one stage in the way of a healing journey.”

The new discovery of the unmarked graves came after Canada was shocked last month by the discovery of the mass grave of the former Kamloops Residential School, which was also operated by the Catholic Church. 

The remains of the Indigenous children, some as young as three, were found buried in a mass grave at the site of the former Kamloops Residential School located some 220 miles or 354 kilometers northeast of Vancouver. These remains were found with the help of ground-penetrating radar and local officials have not ruled out that more bodies may be found because some areas on the school grounds have not been searched yet. 

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was created to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children of First Nations origin into Canadian culture.

From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into white Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died, according to the Associated Press.

The latest discovery of the unmarked graves once again showed the dark side of Canada’s history which is tainted by utter racism and discrimination against Indigenous people. 

A Frist Nations leader called the recent unearthing of unmarked graves a “crime against humanity.”

“This was a crime against humanity, an assault on First Nations,” Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations Chief Bobby Cameron said. “We will not stop until we find all the bodies.”

Last month when the Kamloops mass grave was discovered, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the discovery was not “an isolated incident,” in apparent anticipation that new graves could be found. A few weeks later, Trudeau’s anticipation turned into a reality, with local media reporting the unearthing of hundreds of unmarked graves. 

Now, Cameron said he expects there will be similar discoveries made at other residential school sites.

Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, described the discovery of the unmarked graves as “tragic,” saying it was not surprising. 

“The news that hundreds of unmarked graves have been found in Cowessess First Nation is absolutely tragic, but not surprising,” Bellegarde said on Twitter, adding, “I urge all Canadians to stand with First Nations in this extremely difficult and emotional time.”

Cameron also called the discovery of the graves a “genocide” that Canada is responsible for. Speaking in a virtual press conference on Thursday, he said, “We are seeing the results of the genocide that Canada committed — genocide on our treaty land.”

In a bid to assuage the fury and frustration of First Nations, Trudeau issued a statement acknowledging the widespread racism in his country. “I recognize these findings only deepen the pain that families, survivors, and all Indigenous peoples and communities are already feeling, and that they reaffirm a truth that they have long known,” he said, adding, “The findings in Marieval and Kamloops are part of a larger tragedy. They are a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced – and continue to face – in this country.”

While Canada is still grappling with the ugly face of its history, the Canadian government continues to lecture other countries, especially Iran, on human rights and accountability. A case in point is the Ukrainian plane crash the case of which is still open partly due to Canadian refusal to cooperate with Iran to deal with the issue without political motivation.

The Ukrainian airliner was shot down shortly after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on January 8, killing all 167 passengers and nine crew members on board. 

On January 11, the Armed Forces' General Staff released a statement saying the plane was mistakenly downed near the airport. 

The incident happened a few hours after Iran fired dozens of ballistic missiles at a U.S. airbase inside Iraq in retaliation for the assassination of top Iranian military commander, Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

However, the Canadian government has ordered an investigation into the plane crash while leveling accusations against Iran from time to time. The result of the investigation was recently published, underlining that there was no evidence that Iran intentionally shot down the Ukrainian jet. 

The government of Canada’s report entitled “The Downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752: Factual Analysis” confirmed earlier Iranian assessment that there is no evidence that the downing of the plane was “premeditated.” Despite its admission about the lack of evidence about Iranian premeditation, the Canadian government’s report claimed that Iranian civil and military authorities are “fully responsible” for the crash of the Ukrainian plane.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Mohsen Baharvand hit back at Canada's contradictory report, warning it against politicizing the plane crash.

“As we can see, the Canadians have also confirmed that the firing on this plane was not premeditated,” Baharvand said. 

He added, “The part of the report that criticizes the accident report of the investigation team of the Islamic Republic of Iran is technically baseless and therefore unacceptable. Iran sent the draft report to the countries before publication and within the legal deadline, and they also sent their comments on the report to Tehran.”

In early June, Baharvand said Iran agreed to pay $150,000 in compensation for each victim of the crash. He pointed out that the Iranian government had agreed to pay $150,000 for each victim, whether Iranian or foreigner, which some families have received as compensation.