Prime minister, Sask. premier respond to discovery of unmarked graves at Cowessess First Nation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is “terribly saddened” to learn about the discovery of 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school site in Saskatchewan and the hurt and trauma Indigenous people are feeling is “Canada’s responsibility to bear.”

In a statement, the prime minister said the findings at the Marieval Residential School grounds on Cowessess First Nation are “part of a larger tragedy” and a “shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced – and continue to face – in this country.”

Trudeau said the federal government will continue to provide funding to communities to “bring these terrible wrongs to light.”

My heart breaks for the Cowessess First Nation following the discovery of Indigenous children buried at the former Marieval Residential School. We cannot bring them back, but we will honour their memory and we will tell the truth about these injustices. https://t.co/WuxdsixJnx

— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 24, 2021

In a statement Wednesday night, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said “all of Saskatchewan mourns for those who were discovered buried in unmarked graves near the former Marieval Indian Residential School site.”

Moe said he has spoken with FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron and Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme to offer the “full support of the provincial government.”

My statement on the discovery of unmarked graves near the former Marieval Indian Residential School site. pic.twitter.com/8Dyb9C7Efy

— Scott Moe (@PremierScottMoe) June 24, 2021

OPPOSITION REACTION

The Saskatchewan NDP expect more discoveries will be made and caution against becoming desensitized to the situation.

“I wish I could say that we were surprised. But this will not be the only grim discovery in this province as we grapple with the truth of these deaths,” said NDP leader Ryan Meili.

Meili said he has reached out to the premier to see how the two parties can work together in helping First Nations heal.

He added there are Calls to Action that directly apply to the province that haven’t been acted on yet, and called for “real, meaningful and swift action on truth and reconciliation.”

Meili said he is writing to the Pope to seek the release of residential school records.

The NDP also said mental health supports are needed for people both on and off reserve.

Betty Nippi-Albright, the NDP critic for First Nations and Métis Relations and Truth and Reconciliation and a residential school survivor, said the discoveries have been triggering for her and many others.

“This opens wounds for all of us as residential school survivors,” said Nippi-Albright.

“We need to have resources available for people to talk about it.” 

‘COLLECTIVE GRIEVING’ 

Regina Mayor Sandra Masters said she spoke with Chief Delorme and offered the community of Cowessess the City of Regina’s full support, in a video message posted to Instagram.

“We stand by the survivors of residential schools and their descendants on their healing journey and as they undertake the important work of honouring their loved ones,” Masters said.

She asked Regina residents to care for one another in the “collective grieving” for the lives lost and treatment of Indigenous people.

“Those unmarked graves are part of the truth that we are asked to witness and learn about. We must listen to Indigenous leaders, elders and knowledge keepers and follow their guidance as we face the truth and take action towards reconciliation,” Masters said.

Masters added that residents can start to take action by learning more about the history of Indigenous people in Canada.

Former Wascana-Regina MP Ralph Goodale, who is now the High Commissioner for Canada in the U.K., tweeted in support of Chief Delormre, saying “all Canadians must stand with him and his people, to share the grief and advance reconciliation.”

My friend Chief Cadmus Delorme @cadmusd of Cowessess First Nation has a huge burden on his shoulders today, supporting and leading his community through this painful time. All Canadians must stand with him and his people, to share the grief and advance reconciliation.

— Ralph Goodale (@RalphGoodale) June 24, 2021

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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

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