'We always knew:' Reactions to 751 unmarked graves detected at residential school

·4 min read

Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan says ground-penetrating radar has found 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School site, about 150 kilometres east of Regina. It came a month after Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said a search had found what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Here is some reaction from across the country:

"We always knew that there were graves here." — Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation

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"The world is watching Canada as we unearth the findings of genocide. We had concentration camps here. We had them here in Canada, in Saskatchewan. They were called Indian Residential Schools." — Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan

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"We must never forget our children were targeted and placed in a racist system purposely designed to stamp out every aspect of who we are — our languages, our cultures, our teachings. I support Chief Delorme in his call for healing and for an apology from His Holiness, Pope Francis."Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde

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"As with Cowessess First Nation, for Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, this is only phase one, more investigation is needed." — Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc chief and council

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"The findings in Marieval and Kamloops are part of a larger tragedy. They are a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced — and continue to face — in this country. And together, we must acknowledge this truth, learn from our past, and walk the shared path of reconciliation, so we can build a better future.” — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

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"I just want people to take a moment to think about the schools that they went to. If you went to grade school in Canada, would you ever imagine that there would be a burial site for kids at the school, even if that school was 50 years old?" — Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

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"I find it very sad and disturbing to read about the uncovering of burial grounds at the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Cowessess. Bishops fully support the investigative work underway and we want to collaborate in the process. Bishops desire to accompany Indigenous peoples and their communities through listening and actively working together to find solutions." — Archbishop Richard Gagnon, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

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"Even for those of us who were not there or not involved, it is nonetheless the painful legacy that we need to carry. The incredible burden of the past is still with us, and the truth of that past needs to come out, however painful, as only truth can lead to reconciliation." Don Bolen, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Regina

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"I understand many were children, and it is heartbreaking to think that so many children lost their lives after being separated from their families, and away from the love and solace only a family can provide." — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe

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"We cannot let ourselves become desensitized. We cannot look away. We have to face these horrors head-on and take real, meaningful and swift action on Truth and Reconciliation. Thoughts and prayers are simply not enough." — Saskatchewan Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili

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"This was a truth that was far too often denied. It can no longer be." — Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller

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"There should never be graveyards at school — full stop — but we know there are many. This is a reality of the residential school legacy that Canadians have too long overlooked. This horrific truth can no longer be ignored. The least governments and churches must do now is to provide access to the necessary records to identify the locations of all the children and allow communities to honour them with the traditional ceremonies and protocols they were denied." — Stephanie Scott, executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

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"They are not numbers. They are children. They are our ancestors and our cousins. They are people who should have had full lives, and whose children and grandchildren should be with us today." — Sol Mamakwa, Ontario NDP MPP and residential school survivor

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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