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Williams Lake First Nation in British Columbia says a preliminary geophysical investigation has identified 93 reflections that could indicate the number of children buried around the site of a former residential school.

Chief Willie Sellers says only excavation would confirm the presence of human remains and much more work is needed to make final determinations.

From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools as an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society.

According to Sellers, out of the 93 reflections, 43 may be associated with a historic cemetery – and the remaining 50 are not.

He says 14 of 470 hectares around the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School have so far been examined as part of a process to discover what happened to children who didn’t return home.

Williams Lake is located about 540 km (350 miles) north of Vancouver.

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The investigation near Williams Lake comes after the use of ground-penetrating radar led to the discovery last year of what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Searches are ongoing at a number of schools across the country as communities use various forms of technology to search for lost children.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated the number at around 4,000.

The St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School operated from 1891 until 1981.

The investigation near Williams Lake comes after the use of ground-penetrating radar led to the discovery last year of what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

First Nations representatives and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have urged Pope Francis to publicly apologize in Canada. The Vatican announced last year the pope would visit Canada this year. A date has not been announced.

Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations.

The aim of the residential school system was to isolate young Indigenous Canadians from the influence of their homes and culture, which the government at the time considered inferior to mainstream Canadian society.

With files from the Canadian Press and Associated Press

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WARNING: This story has disturbing details about residential and boarding schools. If you are feeling triggered, here is a resource list for trauma responses from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition in the US. The National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline in Canada can be reached at 1-866-925-4419. If you're in Treaty 4 territory, call 306-522-7494.