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Discoveries of Canada Burial Sites Stir Painful Memories for Indigenous People

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SIX NATIONS OF THE GRAND RIVER TERRITORY, Ontario—When 215 unmarked graves were found near a former boarding school for Indigenous children last month, Sherlene Bomberry said she was overwhelmed by the memory of hearing little girls crying in their beds and fearsome punishments during her time at the same type of school in the 1960s.

Standing outside the imposing three-story brick building where she went to school, known as the Mohawk Institute and about 60 miles southwest of Toronto, Ms. Bomberry recalled how she was too afraid to comfort other children in her dormitory. She was forbidden from leaving her bed, and punishments could be harsh. “I just cried and cried” after learning about the discovery of the graves, she said. “My body was remembering.”

Ms. Bomberry, now 65 years old, is a member of the Cayuga Nation from Six Nations of the Grand River, and was one of the estimated 150,000 Indigenous children who were separated from their families to attend so-called residential schools that operated in Canada for more than a century, some until the 1990s. The schools, sponsored by the state and run by religious groups, were meant to assimilate the children into European-Canadian culture and were often rife with abuse, later investigations found.

The discovery of unmarked graves by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation near Kamloops, British Columbia, in late May, and a second find this week in Saskatchewan, brought painful memories for many in Canada’s Indigenous communities, as well as calls to search for further graves at the sites of roughly 150 former residential schools across the country.

The Cowessess First Nation in the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan said this week it had found 751 unmarked graves near the former Marieval Indian Residential School. Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said it isn’t known whether all of those graves contain the remains of children who attended the school; it’s possible that some local adults were buried on the site. The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation has said the 215 remains that were found near Kamloops were children.

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