Cowessess First Nation says 751 unmarked graves found near former residential school

The preliminary findings from a ground-penetrating radar scan indicate a series of unmarked graves rather than a mass grave


This morning, a Saskatchewan First Nation revealed the grim results of its research using ground-penetrating radar near a former Indian residential school.

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said the search revealed the existence of 751 “hits” suggesting unmarked graves, with a margin of error of 10 to 15 per cent. The results showed the burials were one metre by one metre apart.

“This is not a mass gravesite,” the Cowessess chief insisted. “These are unmarked graves.”

He said that it’s possible some of the remains were adults and that some graves may have been marked in the past.

According to Delorme, Catholic church officials might have removed grave markets in the 1960s.

This is the first phase of the Cowessess First Nation’s research, which is being conducted by technical experts from Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

The announcement came a week before Canada Day.

In May, Canadians learned of unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. This has already prompted three B.C. municipalities to cancel Canada Day celebrations.

About 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their family homes and placed in church-run residential schools under Canadian government policy. There, they were forbidden from speaking their Indigenous languages or engaging in traditional Indigenous cultural practices.

The program was launched in 1883 and the final school closed in 1996.

Documents will be destroyed

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada described what happened in Indian residential schools as “cultural genocide”

In 2014, Ontario Superior Court Justice Ian Perell ruled that the Independent Assessment Process documents, which include testimonies from residential-school survivors, should be subject to a 15-year retention period.

“Importantly, Justice Perell ruled that every copy of the IAP documents, no matter who possesses them, must be destroyed after the conclusion of the retention period if the IAP claimants do not consent to having the documents archived,” the TRC stated in it one of its reports.

The TRC has maintained that survivors’ stories must be preserved.

“The loss of these documents would be a blow to Canada’s national memory of a significant historic injustice, could contribute to the possibility that future generations would never know of the abuses in residential schools, and could contribute to the argument of those who would assert that this happened,” the report noted.

In 2017 in a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that survivors have control over their stories and if they don’t want them preserved, the records can be shredded.

These records relate to nearly 38,000 claims made as a result of a settlement agreement in 2006 between the Assembly of First Nations, various churches, and the federal government.

The settlement agreement gave rise to the TRC, which was chaired by former judge Murray Sinclair.

Below, you can read reactions on social media to the today’s news.

Anyone feeling distress in connection with this issue can call a 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-925-4419. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society can be reached toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.

This story originally appeared in the Georgia Straight.

@charliesmithvcr

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