Cowessess First Nation
Discovers 751 Unmarked Graves
EVERY CHILD MATTERS
Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation announced on June 24 that 751 unmarked graves have been found at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School. The Residential School operated from 1899 to 1997 in the area where Cowessess First Nation is now located. The colonial state and Catholic Church forced Indigenous children from across Saskatchewan and Manitoba to stay at the school. The RCMP and other police powers threatened Indigenous families with imprisonment if they did not hand over their children.
Chief Cadmus Delorme at a press conference said, “This is not a mass grave site. These are unmarked graves.” He said that some of the remains previously had markers but the priest in charge of the cemetery ordered them removed in the 1960s prior to the Cowessess First Nation taking control of the site. Chief Delorme said oral stories from local Truth-keepers speak of both children and adults being there.
Chief Delorme said the First Nation partnered with technical teams from Saskatchewan Polytechnic to search 44,000 square metres with ground penetrating radar. Human remains were found at 751 “recorded hits” with a possible 10 to 15 per cent degree of inaccuracy. Also, the radar findings do not clearly show whether the remains at each “hit” are from more than one person. The technical teams would be able to provide a verified number in the coming weeks. He said the announcement marks Phase One in finding and identifying those who have been buried near the Marieval School. Oral history in the community suggests other burial sites exist, which require more extensive searching throughout the area.
Chief Delorme said the community wants to put names to the people in the graves in the coming months. He said the community would be treating the site “like a crime scene” because Indigenous children were forcibly taken and confined with many subsequently going missing, and also because the church removed grave markers, which is a serious crime in itself.
A Crime Against Humanity
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Executive sent sincere condolences and prayers to the community of Cowessess First Nation and the survivors and descendants of the Marieval Indian Residential School.
“The Marieval Residential School gravesite was overseen by the Roman Catholic Church from 1886 to 1970. During this time children who attended Marieval and passed were buried at this gravesite. In the 1960s the Catholic Church removed the headstones and today, we have over 600 unmarked graves” says Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme. “This is not a mass gravesite; it is unmarked graves. Our end goal is to locate, identify, and put a mark down honouring our loved ones.”
“Hundreds of First Nations children went to Marieval Indian Residential School and did not leave. Sadly, this is just the beginning. There will be hundreds more unmarked graves and burial sites located across our First Nations lands at the sites of former Indian Residential Schools” says FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron. “There are thousands of families across our Treaty territories that have been waiting for their children to come home. Saskatchewan had the highest number of residential schools and highest number of survivors. There will be hundreds more.”
“Our community is in mourning and our families are in pain. Every one of our Cowessess members has a family member buried there. The pain we are feeling is real” says Chief Delorme. “Please respect the privacy of our families and community at this very trying time.”
Statement from Chief Michael Sack, leader of the Nova Scotia Sipekne’katik First Nation (Indian Brook)
There must be a reckoning for what has happened to innocent Indigenous children in this country — these are clearly crimes against humanity. In the last year, the world for the first time in history could take notice in “real time” of what was happening to our people. The violence, harassment, death threats and property damage, it was all caught on video, shared broadly and resulted in the dismay of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. Technology is what has made the difference from what we know has been happening as a result of systematic racism to Indigenous people since the beginning of colonization. These vulnerable and precious children in BC and Saskatchewan did not have the benefit of anyone telling their story and uncovering what we know is one of the most horrific and evil acts by any institution in the history of mankind. My community and I stand with all Indigenous leadership in our insistence that both the Church and the government of Canada atone for these crimes,
1. Chief Sack refers to the attack on Indigenous, moderate livelihood, fishers in Nova Scotia. For further information see: “All Eyes on Mi’kma’ki,” The Marxist-Leninist Weekly, October 24, 2020.