The majority of the 751 bodies that lie buried in unmarked graves at a former Indian residential school in Canada are those of children, Canadian media reported Tuesday.
Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme made the statement in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
In the wake of more than 1,000 unmarked graves found at four former residential schools since May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would support a criminal investigation into the 139 schools. It is the first time he has acknowledged his backing for a probe.
“I will support anything that families need to move forward, for Canadians to understand the truth and to actually move forward on reconciliation,” he said Monday in an interview with Global News. He had faced growing pressure for a probe.
The first residential school opened in the 1820s and the last one closed in 1996. About 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend and it is estimated around 4,000 died from disease, malnutrition and neglect.
There are also stories from survivors that students were subjected to beatings and sexual abuse. The idea was to strip the children of their Indigenous identity and replace it with white culture. About 60% were run by the Catholic Church.
Many of the officials that worked in the schools have died, but some are still alive and Indigenous leaders want them to face criminal charges.
As for the criminal investigation, Trudeau said while he would support it, it is up to government lawyers and police to call for a probe.
Delorme said stories have been told for generations that there were unmarked graves at the former Marieval residential school at Cowessess in Saskatchewan.
He believes 75 percent of the 751 graves found to date are children, but until the area is fully searched by ground-penetrating radar, "I cannot confirm that."