Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked Pope Francis to visit Canada and apologize after 751 more unmarked graves were found at the site of what was once that country’s residential school under the administration of the Roman Catholic Church to assimilate indigenous people.
“I have spoken personally directly with His Holiness Pope Francis to press upon him how important it is not just that he makes an apology but that he makes an apology to indigenous Canadians on Canadian soil,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa Friday, the day after a preliminary report revealed that an additional 751 unmarked graves were found near the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, bringing the number to 966, Reuters reported.
“I know that the Catholic Church leadership is looking and very actively engaged in what next steps can be taken,” Trudeau added.
Last month, the remains of 215 children, some as young as 3 years old, were found buried under an area on which Kamloops Indian Residential School stood in British Columbia, which was part of the Canadian Indian residential school system that was closed in 1978, the BBC reported at the time.
“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,” Trudeau added in his statement, according to the CBC.
“The hurt and the trauma that you feel is Canada’s responsibility to bear, and the government will continue to provide Indigenous communities across the country with the funding and resources they need to bring these terrible wrongs to light. While we cannot bring back those who were lost, we can — and we will — tell the truth of these injustices, and we will forever honor their memory,” he added.
The school opened under the Roman Catholic administration in 1890 and housed as many as 500 students in the 1950s.
Many students were beaten and verbally abused, and about 6,000 are believed to have died at the school, according to the Los Angeles Times, which also reported that the Canadian government had admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant at the schools, and apologized in Parliament in 2008.
Canada’s residential school system separated some 150,000 indigenous children from their families, according to The Wall Street Journal, which quoted an inquiry report from 2015 that estimated that 4,100 children died of disease or by accident while in the system and went on to call the school system akin to cultural genocide.
Marion Buller, who served as chief commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, has suggested that Trudeau needs to do more for the indigenous people.
“It’s a nice statement. A very well-crafted statement of sympathy and empathy, but there’s no action there,” CBC quoted her as saying.