Prime Minister Justin Trudeau places a teddy bear at an unmarked grave as he visits the Cowessess First Nation near Grayson, Sask., July 6. CNS photo/Shannon VanRaes, Reuters

Former chief demands Cowessess residential school records

  • July 16, 2021

Indigenous scholar and former Cowessess First Nation Chief Terry Pelletier is challenging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to ensure any Cree person can look up the full records of their family members who attended the Marieval Indian Residential School, where approximately 751 unmarked graves were found in June.

After Trudeau visited the abandoned Cowessess cemetery on July 6, Pelletier demanded the prime minister guarantee that all school records are made available.

“I told him in no uncertain terms to get this done now,” Pelletier told The Catholic Register. “So now I want to know when this will be done.”

Pelletier has also been in correspondence with OMI Lacombe Canada provincial superior Fr. Ken Thorson about accessing documents that relate to his own time at Marieval in the 1950s and ’60s.

The Oblates, who operated 48 residential schools across Canada, have struck a deal with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to digitize and transfer thousands more documents to the University of Manitoba-based foundation. Following the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, the Oblates transferred more than 40,000 documents to the NCTR, but have until now held back the Codex Historicus — thousands of records, photographs, letters and other materials that relate to the daily operation of the schools.

Oblate concerns about legal privacy obligations should not prevent the transfer of the records, NCTR executive director Stephanie Scott said in a release.

“The National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Act of Manitoba facilitates the collection of information and records to fulfill the mandate of the NCTR and ensures appropriate protection of privacy. Provincial and federal privacy laws are not a barrier for the transfer of records,” Scott said.

The Oblates are committed to making the documents accessible “as soon as possible,” said Thorson.

“That work includes an organized approach to digitizing documents, reflective of the transparent partnership the Oblates have entered into with the NCTR,” he said. “It is our hope this will permit a full review of the existing historical documentation from our order’s involvement, so that the truth of residential schools will be fully known.”

Pelletier is waiting for results.

“I said (to Trudeau) in no uncertain terms, ‘I have a big mouth and I don’t shut up till I get what I want,’ ” he said.

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