Statement on Cowessess First Nation

By Lori Campbell Posted: June 25, 2021 9:00 a.m.

Lori Campbell is the Associate Vice-President, Indigenous Engagement at the University of Regina.
Lori Campbell is the Associate Vice-President, Indigenous Engagement at the University of Regina. Photo provided by Lori Campbell.

Less than a month ago I wrote a message to the University of Regina community following the uncovering of a mass burial site containing the remains of 215 Indigenous children at the residential school site in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. I did not anticipate writing another one of a similar nature so soon. But here we are.

As Indigenous peoples, we knew there would be more “discoveries” now that we had access to the ground penetrating radar technology that would help us search the lands where our old ones have told us children were buried. Even so, I don’t know that any of us could have prepared ourselves for what was to come with the recent announcement from Chief Cadmus Delorme of Cowessess First Nation.

Chief Delorme announced a mass discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School (IRS). The Marieval IRS operated from 1899-1997. Indigenous children from Treaty 4 and Treaty 2, southeast Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba, made up the majority of students although oral history tells us children from central Saskatchewan and other areas may have also attended. I cannot stress enough how important it is that we believe and trust in the oral history from our old ones.

Knowledge Keeper, Florence Sparvier attended this school and shared some of her heartbreaking personal experiences during the announcement. She told us that if the children didn’t go to the school one of their parents would be put in jail. And so, the children went in an attempt to keep families together. She shared memories of how children were treated meanly and were told they were heathens, making it nearly impossible to have any sense of pride in themselves.

Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations shared stories of children digging graves for other children and stated that the only crime that was ever committed by the children was solely being born Indigenous. This deeply embedded trauma has been carried through to future generations and impacts us today.

Four years ago, I was told by my old ones that things are going to get much more difficult for Indigenous peoples before they will get better. I do not know if this was what they were speaking of, but I do know that Saskatchewan had the largest number of children in residential schools and as the ground penetrating radar searches continue throughout the province and across Turtle Island, it is clear we all are facing a very difficult journey ahead.

As I keep my smudge burning, my prayers go out to Chief Delorme, members of Cowessess First Nation, others who have close ties with Marieval Residential School, and Indigenous communities and nations across Turtle Island as we collectively grieve and come together to support one another. It is because of the undeniable strength and perseverance of our ancestors that we are here to answer the calls of the children who never stopped calling out. Kinanâskomitinawaw, thank you, to all our ancestors.

Kiskisitotawātānik, let’s remember them, aniki kīkā kākī-pīkiwīcik, those that did not come home.

Let’s bring them home.