The Cowessess First Nation in Canada said Thursday it has found 751 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan.
The indigenous group said the discovery was “the most significantly substantial to date in Canada”.
It comes weeks after the remains of 215 children were found at a similar residential school in British Columbia.
“In 1960, there may have been marks on these graves,” said Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme during a virtual live conference.
“The Catholic Church representatives removed these headstones and today, there are unmarked graves.” Added the indigenous leader.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says on its website that the Cowessess school was built in 1899 by Roman Catholic missionaries. And officially closed on June 30, 1997.
It is not yet clear if all of the remains are linked to the school.
“We cannot affirm that they are all children but there are oral stories that there are adults in this grave site as well,” said Mr Cadmus Delorme.
It was one of more than 130 compulsory boarding schools funded by the Canadian government and run by religious authorities during the 19th and 20th Centuries with the aim of assimilating indigenous youth.
An estimated 6,000 children died while attending these schools, due in large part to the squalid health conditions inside. Students were often housed in poorly built, poorly heated, and unsanitary facilities.
Physical and sexual abuse at the hands of school authorities led others to run away.
In a statement, the Truth and Reconcilation Commission said ” Canada does not want to claim responsibility for the genocide that took place. However, the truth we are seeing unfold about the death of children torn from their families to attend a school where they were stripped of their culture, dehumanized, starved, and subjected to horrific abuse fulfills the internationally recognized definition of genocide.”
In a Twitter, the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau said “we’re committed to working together in true partnership to right these historic wrongs and advance reconciliation in concrete, meaningful, and lasting ways.”