Cowessess First Nation chief applauds calls for national residential schools investigation

·4 min read
Community members, dancers, Elders, Premier Scott Moe and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watch as Chief Cadmus Delorme signs the agreement for federal funding to locally control their child welfare services.  (Matt Howard/CBC - image credit)
Community members, dancers, Elders, Premier Scott Moe and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watch as Chief Cadmus Delorme signs the agreement for federal funding to locally control their child welfare services. (Matt Howard/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

A Saskatchewan First Nation Chief said calls for an investigation into child abuse at residential schools are needed to make sure nothing is left unturned.

On Thursday, NDP MPs Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Charlie Angus held a news conference calling on Justice Minister David Lametti to launch an investigation into "crimes against humanity" following preliminary discoveries of unmarked burial sites at former residential school sites.

The MPs said Lametti must appoint an independent prosecutor with the power to bring those involved in the abuse of children at residential schools to court.

"Enough is enough. Indigenous people need truth and justice," Qaqqaq said at the news conference.

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme is one of those who announced findings of unmarked graves at nearby residential school cemeteries. Delorme's First Nation used ground penetrating radar to find 751 unmarked graves.

Delorme said that since Cowessess shared the news, some political parties have reached out, as have provinces and churches.

"We asked everybody to stand beside us. Not political parties, everybody," Delorme told host Ginella Massa on Canada Tonight.

"So this recent calling from the NDP is the amount of push needed to make sure that we leave nothing unturned to make sure every unmarked grave is respected, has a stone or some name there so that we can honour them for years to come."

WATCH | Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme spoke with host Ginella Massa on Canada Tonight

Delorme said that all parties agree the wrongdoing in residential schools needs to be faced.

"There is pressure coming from many areas," Delorme said. "We don't disagree on the end goal, nor do I think any political party in this country disagrees with the end goal. How we get to the end goal is where the discussions happen."

Delorme said the minister and MPs play a role, but at the end of the day Cowessess First Nation is treating the area with the graves as a crime scene, as they believe headstones were removed, which violates the Cemetery Act of Saskatchewan.

"Even though this was done in 1961, that act might not have been in force then, but we still, these headstones were removed by the authorization of a priest of the day, and so we want to make sure we address this both with reconciliation, with truth and if there is any crime, we will address that as well."

Two days ago, Cowessess First Nation signed a historic agreement to control their local child welfare system. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Scott Moe signed a funding agreement affirming power and jurisdiction to the First Nation.

"This is reconciliation through and through," Delorme said. "The best approach moving forward is let First Nations control their destiny and this is one area Cowessess will be controlling our destiny."

Matt Howard/CBC
Matt Howard/CBC

Delorme said it's important to recognize that intergenerational trauma is real. He said intergenerational trauma took away the passing of knowledge and values from parent to child, grandparent to grandchild.

Today, even though residential schools have closed their doors, some of the survivors are parents who are only in their 40s, he said. Some are deeply affected by intergenerational trauma and need extra help.

"Child welfare is a real truth to the aftermath of residential school and intergenerational trauma."

LISTEN | Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme spoke with Peter Mills on CBC Saskatchewan's The Morning Edition

Delorme said there's a lot of work ahead and the First Nation isn't stopping with the child welfare agreement. He said it wants to address the Indian Act next. He said it si addressing the land issue right now, then focusing on the membership aspects and judicial system next.

"We're not talking the Criminal Code or provincial private code, but we have to have our own judicial system to implement our inherent laws so that there are options when our citizens are starting to maybe just get into situations that are criminal, let us help them."

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and for those triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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