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The Cowessess First Nation found hundreds of unmarked graves on this site near the former Marieval Indian Residential School. FSIN Handout photo

Names will be put to all in Cowessess graves, chief vows

  • June 30, 2021

The Cowessess First Nation will put a name to each of the hundreds of bodies found at the unmarked graves on the former Marieval Indian Residential School, vows Chief Cadmus Delorme.

“We will put a headstone and a grave to each of them,” Delorme said at a June 24 news conference to announce the discovery of hundreds of bodies on the southeast Saskatchewan First Nations’ lands.

The chief announced the discovery of up to 751 unmarked graves at the site of the Catholic residential school on its territory, the news coming almost a month after the discovery of 215 children’s bodies buried at another residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

The graves at Marieval — which Delorme said were not part of a mass grave — were discovered by ground-penetrating radar which the First Nation, with the help of Saskatchewan Polytechnic, had been using since earlier this month on the grounds of the cemetery. He also said it’s not yet certain if all the bodies are children from the school.

“We always knew there were graves here” through oral history passed down by elders in the community, he said.

The Marieval school, located about 140 kilometres east of Regina, opened in 1898 and was run by Catholic missionaries and funded by the federal government until 1968, when the government took over full control before handing over responsibility for the school to the Cowessess First Nation in 1987. It closed in 1997 and was demolished in 1999.

The graves had been marked in the past but in 1960 the headstones were taken down by a Church representative, said Delorme.

“We didn’t remove the headstones, that’s a crime in this country,” he said.

By putting a name to each person buried there, “we want to make sure we keep that place so we can heal,” said Delorme.

“A lot of the pain we see in our people comes from there,” elder Florence Sparvier, a knowledge keeper in the Cowessess community, said.

Sparvier attended the Marieval school and recalled how the children were not treated very well by the Oblates and the nuns who ran and taught at the school.

“They made us believe we didn’t have souls,” the 80-year-old Sparvier said.

Regina Archbishop Don Bolen called the news of the unmarked graves “overwhelming.”

“I know that apologies seem a very small step as the weight of past suffering comes into greater light,” said Bolen in a statement, “but I extend that apology again and pledge to do what we can to turn that apology into meaningful concrete acts — including assessing information that will help to provide names and information about those buried in unmarked graves — and to stand by you in whatever way you request.”

The discoveries of the Kamloops and Marieval graves — “and there are more to come,” said Chief Bobby Cameron, chief of the FSIN (Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations) — have pushed forward the calls to enact true reconciliation. Cameron called on governments “to work with us — and they are.” That includes releasing all records pertaining to residential schools.

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