Save the Children statement on recent discovery of 751 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Saskatchewan

The following statement is linked to recent news that may be triggering for some. The following resources are available:

  • Indian Residential School Survivors and Family Hotline: 1-866-925-4419
  • Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

For Indigenous Peoples on Treaty 4 territory, Regina Treaty Status Indian Services has set up the following crisis line 306-522-7494.


Toronto, June 24, 2021 – Today Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced that it has found 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School, many of which appear to be those of children killed while attending the school.

This finding might be shocking and traumatic to non-Indigenous peoples, but it confirms stories Indigenous peoples have been speaking of for generations and is reflective of Canada’s violent and shameful colonial history.

This development comes less than a month after the discovery of 215 graves at a former residential school site in Kamloops, BC. These are not isolated incidences and unmarked graves have also been discovered at several other former residential schools across the country.

“The discovery of over 1,000 unmarked graves at residential schools in Canada over the past two months is heart-breaking, with this inhuman treatment of children reverberating through communities today and into future generations,” said Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International. “The latest discoveries underscore the cruelty of the residential school system in Canada, along with similar racist systems in other countries.

“Save the Children collaborates with several organizations who are working with and for Indigenous communities – these organizations provide (crisis) support for former students of residential schools through counselling, education prevention and interventions.”

Every Indigenous community in Canada has a story of missing children: from those lost in the residential school system to those taken from their families in what is known as the “Sixties Scoop,” to missing and murdered women and girls and up to the current moment, with a disproportionate number of Indigenous children in the child welfare system.

This story is older than Canada and continues today.

Save the Children stands with Cowessess First Nation and others across the country in their treatment of these unmarked graves as a crime scene – both in regards to the deaths of the children and to concerns that the Catholic Church may have removed headstones from some graves. We join the call for a full, independent inquiry into the missing and murdered children across all of former residential school sites across Canada.

“We are deeply saddened and angered by the discovery of 751 graves of Indigenous children – this is a tragedy that never should have happened, “ said Danny Glenwright, President and CEO of Save the Children in Canada. “The abuse, neglect, trauma and death suffered by thousands of Indigenous children in Canada is nothing short of genocide – one that remains deeply engraved in the lives of Indigenous people today.

“Canada cannot stop looking until all the graves of missing children are uncovered, and all families know what happened to their loved ones. Indigenous communities deserve justice, and we stand with them in support and to ensure the government and the Catholic Church are held to account for decades of failing residential school survivors and their families.”

With more than 100 years of history in Canada, Save the Children has committed to learn more about, and take responsibility for, any action – or inaction – that contributed to the discrimination and violence experienced by Indigenous children and people. For true healing to occur, we must not be silent; we must speak out and take action against rights violations.

Furthermore, in acknowledgment of the undue harm the name Save the Children could cause within Indigenous communities. We came to the uncomfortable and shameful truth that our name and reputation in the face of more than 150 years of forced child extraction, compounded with many years of silence and inaction, were re-traumatizing and insensitive to Indigenous peoples and children. Thus, our National Reconciliation Program specifically focuses on supporting Indigenous children and youth to assert their inherent right to be self-determined human beings.

Save the Children is calling on the government of Canada to prioritize implementation of the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including investigating all former residential school grounds across the country to find the remains of missing children. In addition, policymakers must urgently reform the child welfare system to address the inequalities that still very much haunt and hurt Indigenous children today. Additionally, the Indigenous and colonial history must be included into school curricula fairly and transparently.

We also call on the Catholic Church to release all documents potentially related to unmarked burials of residential school children as well as issue formal apologies.

At Save the Children we want all children protected from abuse, neglect and exploitation and we are committed to tackling head-on any institutional racism or discrimination that targets Indigenous children. The inter-generational damage cannot be underestimated and at Save the Children we are committed to increasing awareness and action of Indigenous child rights.

Finally, as Canada Day approaches, it is critically important to recognize the full history of a country built on policies that discriminate and silence. This year on July 1, we call on non-Indigenous Canadians to recognize and reflect upon these hard truths and stand alongside Indigenous peoples as they continue the healing process.




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Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. In Canada and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share.