The toll of unmarked graves holding the remains of Indigenous children in Canada increased by 54 yesterday following the announcement from Keeseekoose First Nation in Saskatchewan.

The Nation found the graves using ground penetrating radar at the sites of two former Indian Residential Schools, with 12 found at Saint Philips and 42 at Fort Pelly, both less than ten miles from the Nation’s headquarters.

“Knowing that we had unmarked graves in our community, in our common areas where we drive every day, that we walk every day, we pass by them never realizing that there was graves there— that's got to be the most hurtful part,” said Chief Lee Kitchemonia in a broadcast press conference yesterday. “The way they were hidden.”

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The discovery comes weeks after Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) announced their findings of at least 50 Indigenous children found on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School, a former Residential School in British Columbia. Since last May, over 1,400 Indigneous children's remains have been found across Canada, including 215 in Kamloops, 182 in Cranbrook, and more than 160 found on Penelakut Island–all in British Columbia–and 751 in Marieval, Saskatchewan. 

Assembly of First Nations national Chief RoseAnne Archibald spoke at the press conference via Zoom on Tuesday. She said that survivors have always known what was happening in residential schools, but were rarely believed until the first mass grave was discovered at Kamloops last year.

“And so when we make these recoveries, that's proof, that's long overdue proof that a genocide has occured in Canada,” she said. “What's really difficult about this is that the recovery of our children is just beginning. We are at the beginning of over 130 institutions across Canada.”

Following Tuesday’s announcement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Twitter acknowledging the “profoundly heartbreaking” discovery.

“It is by telling the truth that we will honour and lift up the memory of those who never came home from these so-called schools,” he wrote.

Chief Kitchemonia said the tribe hasn’t completed surveying the school grounds due to winder weather.

“Are there more graves out there? We don't know that,” he said. “We got caught up in the snow. So the numbers that we have here today are the numbers we're presenting, but it also opens up the door for more questions.”

For support or resources in Canada, a National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24/7 for those directly or indirectly impacted by the residential school era, and can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.

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Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 U.S. journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic region. Prior to that, she served as lead reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.