Hundreds of bodies found near former Cowessess residential school site


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The Cowessess First Nation said it had made a “horrific and shocking discovery” of anonymous graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School on their land.

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The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) says a search has found hundreds of unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School on Cowessess First Nation.

Cowessess chief Cadmus Delorme told the Leader-Post on Wednesday that the number of human remains exceeded 300, although he would not provide more information until a Zoom call with community members that evening. A press conference is scheduled for Thursday morning to reveal details of what the FSIN has called a “Horrible and shocking discovery”.

A separate source familiar with the discovery told the Leader-Post that the number is several times greater than the bodies of 215 children found in May at a former residential school near Kamloops, causing shock and mourning across the country. . The FSIN press release says “the number of unmarked graves will be the largest in Canada to date.”

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Cowessess First Nation surveyed the site with the assistance of a crew using ground penetrating radar to locate undocumented remains.

The Marieval Indian Residential School operated from 1899 to 1997 and was located 24 kilometers north of Broadview or approximately 165 kilometers east of Regina. Heather Bear, Deputy Head of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, attended school in the 1970s. Even then, she was unaware of the scale of the horrors. But she later came to hear “terrible stories” of abuse and tragedy. The discovery left her “devastated”.

“I am totally speechless at the number of little ones who have gone missing and never made it home,” she said.

A group of girls in a cooking class at Marieval boarding school.  (<a class=Photo courtesy of the General Collection of the Société historique de Saint-Boniface)” class=”embedded-image__image lazyload” data-src=”https://smartcdn.prod.postmedia.digital/leaderpost/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/262132761-collection_g-n-rale_de_la_soci-t-_historique_de_sa-e1624503329522.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=288″ data-srcset=”https://smartcdn.prod.postmedia.digital/leaderpost/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/262132761-collection_g-n-rale_de_la_soci-t-_historique_de_sa-e1624503329522.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=288,
https://smartcdn.prod.postmedia.digital/leaderpost/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/262132761-collection_g-n-rale_de_la_soci-t-_historique_de_sa-e1624503329522.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=576 2x” height=”515″ loading=”lazy” width=”910″/>
A group of girls in a cooking class at Marieval boarding school. (Photo courtesy of the General Collection of the Société historique de Saint-Boniface)

Bear expects more dark discoveries to follow as FSIN helps First Nations search for several former residential school sites in Saskatchewan, which numbered more than 20 in all. The federal and provincial governments have contributed millions of dollars to this effort.

Last month, in an interview with the Leader-Post, Delorme said: “The pain is real, the pain is there and the pain has not gone away. As we heal, every citizen of Cowessess has a family member in this grave. Knowing that there are unmarked ones continues the pain.

The First Nation teamed up with an underground radar detection team from Saskatchewan Polytechnic to begin the search just over three weeks ago. Delorme told the Leader-Post at the time that he did not know how many people’s remains could be found. It is estimated that only a third of the graves are marked.

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In a statement released Wednesday evening, Premier Scott Moe said he spoke to Delorme and FSIN chief Bobby Cameron and pledged the full support of the provincial government.

“It is heartbreaking to think that so many children have lost their lives after being separated from their families, and far from the love and comfort that only a family can provide,” the statement said.

“Sadly, other First Nations in Saskatchewan will experience the same shock and despair as the search for graves continues across the province.

James Daschuk, a researcher in Indigenous health and history at the University of Regina, applauded Chief Delorme’s decision to continue this research despite the “horrific” findings that may emerge.

“As terrible, and I mean absolutely terrible as it is, what we are seeing is the community is taking back its story,” Daschuk said in an interview on Wednesday.

“I think this will be quite an important time for the healing of affected communities. But it should also be a serious moment of reflection and action on this reflection for all Canadians. “

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has determined that at least 3,200 Indigenous children died while attending residential school and that the general practice was “not to send the bodies of deceased students to schools in their community of origin ”.

A photograph of some religious and pupils of the Marieval school during a ceremony.  Photo courtesy of the General Collection of the Société historique de Saint-Boniface)
A photograph of some religious and pupils of the Marieval school during a ceremony. Photo courtesy of the General Collection of the Société historique de Saint-Boniface) Photo by Gilmour, Kier

“Many students who went to residential school never returned. They were lost to their families. They died at rates well above those of the general school-age population. Their parents were often not informed of their illness and death. They were buried far from their families in long neglected graves, ”reads the 2015 TRC report.

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Students at Marieval Indian Residential School were no exception, according to information published in Shattering the Silence: The Hidden History of Indian Residential Schools in Saskatchewan, a landmark report published by the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina.

For example, reports dating back to 1919 note that authorities expected school personnel to “physically dominate students” and that an Indian agent refused to transfer a student to another school because he feared that “The other boys can form the opinion that the brother [in charge of discipline at Cowessess] is afraid of big boys.

In 1945, a report from the University of Regina recounts how a student’s hair was forcibly cut into a “usual schoolgirl bob” as punishment for trying to escape the building to “meet with local boys ”.

“Irritated by this treatment, the girl’s parents came to school and took her and her two sisters away. An altercation developed between the mother and one of the supervisors ”which led both parents to be indicted and sentenced by the court. An Indian affairs official then threatened to send the pupil to the reformed school if she did not “behave”.

In a social media post, the FSIN provided phone numbers for those experiencing emotional distress as a result of the findings. Those in need of support can call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1 (800) 721-0066 toll free or the 24 hour crisis line at 1 (866) 925-4419.

Marieval Indian Residential School in 1926. (Photo courtesy of the general collection of the Société historique de Saint-Boniface)
Marieval Indian Residential School in 1926. (Photo courtesy of the general collection of the Société historique de Saint-Boniface) Photo by Lorne Coulson /Postmedia Thread

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