Cowessess chief calls on Pope to apologize after 751 unmarked graves discovered
Warning: This story contains details some readers may find disturbing.
Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme has called on the Pope to apologize after an estimated 751 unmarked graves were found on the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan.
The unmarked burial sites were discovered on the grounds of the Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated for nearly 100 years and was run by the Catholic Church.
“The Roman Catholic Residential School has impacted us intensely, and today we have generations that may have not went to residential school, but they are feeling the first and second generation of that impact,” said Delorme during a press conference Thursday morning.
Delorme asked the Pope to apologize for what happened at the Catholic-run school during a press conference Thursday morning.
“An apology is one stage of many in the healing journey,” said Delorme.
'WORDS FAIL': ARCHBISHOP OF REGINA REACTS
Archbishop Don Bolen of Regina said “words fail” in the wake of the discovery at Cowessess.
In a letter addressed to Delorme and the people of Cowessess First Nation, Bolen extended another apology after first apologizing two years ago “for the failures and sins of Church leaders and staff in the past towards the people of Cowessess.”
“I know that apologies seem a very small step as the weight of past suffering comes into greater light, but I extend that apology again, and pledge to do what we can to turn that apology into meaningful concrete acts,” wrote Bolen.
Bolen said the “concrete acts” will include helping the First Nation access names and information about those buried in the unmarked graves.
In the letter, the archbishop said the work of locating the unmarked graves “brings us face to face with the brutal legacy of the Indian Residential School system, a product of a colonialist history which has left so much suffering and intergenerational trauma.”
He added it is a “painful legacy that we need to carry.”
Bolen said several members of Cowessess First Nation have been involved in the archdiocese’s Commission for Truth and Reconciliation and have worked with the archdiocese to address the Calls to Action. He said because of the relationships, the moment is even more overwhelming for the archdiocese.
According to Delorme, in the 1960s there may have been headstones on the burial sites, but he said they were removed by “Catholic Church representatives.”
In his letter, Bolen wrote there was “one priest who served in the region in the 1960s destroyed headstones in a way which was reprehensible.”
SURVIVOR RECALLS FORCED CATHOLICISM
Elder Florence Sparvier, who attended the Marieval Indian Residential School, said the Catholic religion was forced onto them.
“We had to learn how to be Roman Catholic. We couldn’t say our own little blessings the way we said it at home,” she said.
The 80-year-old survivor, whose mother and grandmother also went to the school, added the Catholic nuns and teachers condemned Indigenous peoples’ way of life and spirituality.
"They made us think different. They made us feel different. A lot of pain we see in our people comes from there."
'OUR HEALING JOURNEY'
Delorme spoke about the lasting impact residential schools had on First Nations, with communities feeling the effects to this day.
“Indigenous people in this country are survivors, and now the descendants are still in an intergenerational trauma stage for some,” the chief said.
For that healing journey for Indigenous people to continue, Delorme said the modern day issues stemming from intergenerational trauma need to be addressed as well.
“We enjoy working with Canada, we enjoy our secular Canadian friends and neighbours. What we don’t enjoy is that life is better off the reserve than on the reserve,” he said.
“Coming to the reserve it should be... it is a blessing for family kinship. But infrastructure, lack of services and the intergenerational trauma of addictions, of child welfare, we would rather spend our energy on economic self sustainability, political sovereignty, and being proud Nehiyawak Anishinabek people.”
While work is being done throughout the levels of government to address some issues facing Canadian Indigenous people, Delorme said the progress made has been slow.
“An apology is one stage of many in the healing journey,” Delorme said. “Canada is addressing the surface of the many pains that we endure, and the bureaucracy of the government of Canada and the province have a lot of work yet to do.”
“Canada can move quicker, but they are making progress. We have seen some changes and investment which is helping us in our healing journey.”
If you are a residential school survivor 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
Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services is also opening a crisis line Thursday afternoon that can be reached by dialing 306-522-7494