Unmarked Indigenous Graves in Canada

Claire Hong

This past year, the total number of unmarked indigenous graves found in Canada has been estimated to be over 1,800 unaccounted for, mostly being children. Most of the outrage concerning this issue is directed towards the fact that the majority of the unmarked graves are children, and are being found under previous indigenous residential schools. 

Residential schools for indigenous people originally sought to house the children of colonized land and “civilize” them, forcing them through an assimilation program to blend into non-indigenous society. However, these residential schools often mentally and physically abused the children through malnutrition and punishments, along with killing, and forcefully separating them from their family. This instance wasn’t isolated to one or two schools, as the majority of the residential schools were involved in some type of harm towards the indigenous children forced to reside there. The Canadian government itself has admitted that this physical and sexual abuse was common among the schools, and students were threatened and beaten for speaking their native languages and practicing their culture, a “cultural genocide”. While this fact has been known for a while now, the discovery of all those unmarked bodies under the residential schools, both adult and children, resulted in a renewed desire to honor those who had not even gotten a grave.

Senior Holly Cline stated, “My only thoughts on this subject is it’s horrible. The grave injustice carried out on those individuals is appalling.”

Many others share this sentiment, but unfortunately, these residential schools exist today and continue to separate indigenous children from their land and families, whether or not they are as brutal as years before. Unmarked graves are continuing to be discovered among the numerous residential schools, children and adults from different tribes making the reported numbers climb and a more insistent desire for some sort of closure to these events. 

Junior Kaylie Lopez expressed that, “History can only hide itself until it is discovered. It saddens me to hear this news because those people who were hidden and buried on school grounds deserved respect. They deserve to have their own graves and be remembered.”

Canada promised they would provide an additional $66.2m ($83 million Canadian dollars) to aid in the search for more unmarked graves linked to the residential schools, but many people are displeased with how little action this is. Indigenous communities and outraged individuals alike call for more action to be done, to address the horrible crimes committed towards the indigenous children kept in those residential schools.

On July 31, 2021, protesters joined in the March for Truth and Justice on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, demanding a funded and independent investigation of Canada’s crimes against indigenous people, without pushing this issue under the rug and hiding from the public. One of the leaders in this rally, Charlie Angus, said, “This is important because there was an agreement signed between First Nation leaders, the federal government and the various Christian churches involved in residential schools,” and, “But the mass graves have shown us that serious crimes were committed. And unfortunately, the Catholic Church hasn’t moved up to its legal obligations.”

The fight continues, but many of the recommendations and requests from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have not quite been fulfilled. An investigation by Canada and the Catholic Church of all the deaths allegations of abuse and violence towards the children in the residential schools has been pushed forward, and many indigenous leaders have come forward to press criminal charges against the Canadian government and the churches involved for what had occurred in the residential schools.

Undoubtedly, more bodies will be found along with the investigation and digging up of more residential schools, and the hope is to see more action from the Canadian government and the Catholic Church.