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Trudeau Visits Former Indigenous School Where Graves Were Found

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Joan Gentles of Chilcotin First Nation (Tsilhqot'in) at the Williams Lake First Nation, near a former residential school where a sweep indicated 93 possible unmarked graves, in Williams Lake, British Columbia, March 30, 2022.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met Wednesday with an Indigenous community that recently identified 93 graves at a former residential school, part of a series of similar discoveries that shocked the country.

His visit to the Williams Lake First Nation in British Columbia came days after a delegation spoke with Pope Francis at the Vatican about the horrors of abuse committed at the former church-run schools that were set up by the government to forcibly assimilate Indigenous peoples.

"I am moved to be here," Trudeau told a gathering of tribal leaders, elders and former students after watching a traditional dance and receiving an eagle feather blessing.

"All of Canada grieves with this community at the feelings of loss that have come since the discovery ... but also the deep loss that this community has felt over generations because of the legacy of residential schools," he said.

Trudeau and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller later sat down with former students who shared their "painful" experiences at the St. Joseph's Mission residential school.

"This is our history as a country, and until we properly grasp it ... and commit ourselves to [do] better, we're not living up to the kind of country we all like to think we are," Trudeau commented afterward.

"We have work to do," he said, adding that reconciliation "also requires a response and an apology from the Catholic Church and the pope."

Searches conducted nationwide

The Williams Lake First Nation announced in January that a geophysical survey revealed "93 reflections" with characteristics "indicative of potential human burials" at the former school, which thousands of Indigenous children attended between 1886 and 1981.

The site is about 300 kilometers (185 miles) north of Kamloops, where the remains of 215 children were found last May, kicking off searches nationwide for more unmarked graves and leading to the discoveries of 1,300 so far.

From the late 1800s to the 1990s, some 150,000 Indigenous, Metis and Inuit children were enrolled in 139 of the residential schools across Canada, spending months or years isolated from their families, language and culture.

Many were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.

A truth-and-reconciliation commission concluded in 2015 that the failed government policy amounted to "cultural genocide."

The 32 delegates visiting the Vatican have said an apology from Francis in Canada would be "an important step" in the healing process.