The Cowessess First Nation announced it has found 751 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan.
The First Nation termed the discovery “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.
“This is not a mass grave site. These are unmarked graves,” said Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme.
The Marieval Indian Residential School was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1899 to 1997 in the area where Cowessess is now located in southeastern Saskatchewan. It is not yet clear if all of the remains are linked to the school.
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.
Last month, the Cowessess began to use ground-penetrating radar to locate unmarked graves at the cemetery of the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. Thursday’s announcement marked the first phase of the search efforts.
Chief Delorme said there may have been markers for the graves at one point but that the Roman Catholic church, which oversaw the cemetery, may have removed them. Cowessess First Nation is “optimistic” that the church will work with them in investigating further, he said.
It has not yet been determined if all the unmarked graves belong to children, Chief Delorme said. Technical teams will now work to provide a verified number and identify the remains, he said.
In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “terribly saddened” by the discovery in Saskatchewan. He said it was “a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced”.