Sask. First Nation finds hundreds of burial sites near former residential school

TORONTO — The Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan says it has found hundreds of unmarked burial sites near a former residential school.

According to a press release issued on Wednesday, the Cowessess First Nation completed a radar scan of the area surrounding the Marieval Indian Residential School, making a “horrific and shocking discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves.”

“The number of unmarked graves will be the most significantly substantial to date in Canada,” the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) said in the release.

The Cowessess First Nation is expected to make an official announcement and provide more details on the discovery on Thursday.

The news comes after the remains of 215 children were discovered at former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. last month.

According to the University of Regina, the Marieval residential school operated from 1899 to 1997 in the Qu’Appelle Valley. Marieval was run by the Roman Catholic Church until Cowessess First Nation took over its operations in 1981.

The residential school was later demolished in 1999 and replaced with a day school.

The Cowessess First Nation, located 164 kilometres east of Regina, began radar scanning of the school grounds and surrounding area on June 1 in an effort to identify and memorialize victims of the institution.

The community received a federal grant to work with an underground radar detection team from Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

Cowessess started planning its radar search two years ago, but its chief says it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme spoke about the search during a virtual meeting with Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller on June 18.

Delorme said in the meeting that the Roman Catholic Church used an adjacent cemetery to bury school victims. However, he says the First Nation had to expand their search four times after elders shared oral stories of the school, saying the burials spread past the cemetery.

While the discovery of these burial sites is difficult for “all Canadians,” Delorme said they are a necessary “truth” that must be acknowledged to get to reconciliation.

“The Kamloops story is only one of many that are about to come out,” Delorme said during the meeting.

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.

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