Honour the Children Lost to Residential Schools: Listen, Learn and Move Forward with Truth and Reconciliation

It is with heavy hearts that we learn about the 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Residential School on the Cowessess First Nation, confirming what survivors of these schools have always known.  Less than one month after hearing similar news of 215 unmarked graves on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, this latest event is yet another painful reminder of the trauma inflicted on Indigenous peoples through the settlement of our nation.  Our thoughts are with those of the Cowessess First Nation, the families and communities of those buried, and all survivors, along with their families, of residential schools who must cope with these disturbing memories, and the enduring impacts of their experiences there.

These painful recoveries are just the beginning, as work will continue across the province and country that will undoubtedly reveal and identify more unmarked graves of children at other residential school sites.  Indigenous peoples will be faced with processing the pain and grief of those lost lives, and the unmarked gravesites in which they were placed, over and over again. At this time, it is important that as Canadians we acknowledge the truth, listen, learn about the horrific treatment of Indigenous peoples, and do our part to contribute meaningfully on the path of reconciliation.   

We encourage everyone to give those impacted – our friends, neighbours, colleagues, employees or participants and customers - the time needed to process and heal.  In addition, we also call upon our governments to accelerate their responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and community leaders in the culture sector to do our part.

Here in Saskatchewan, SaskCulture is committed to addressing reconciliation, especially as it pertains to needed changes identified in the TRC’s Calls to Action, as a core part of our mandate.  Residential schools sought to “kill the Indian in the child” by removing children from their families in the effort to destroy the cultural identities and family structures of an entire people. The Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action numbers 71-76 provide way forward in honoring these missing children and their families. SaskCulture urges others not to forget the important work that needs to be done.  Now, more than ever, is the time to commit to our own individual and organizational reconciliation efforts.

It is important that these young lives are never forgotten and that we honour their memories by sharing the truth of the tragic legacy left by residential schools and by supporting Indigenous communities in their efforts to build a better future for today and generations to come.

Of the 139 residential schools that were run across the country, 20 operated in Saskatchewan.  Besides Cowessess First Nations, there were residential schools in the communities of Beauval, Kamsack, Cote First Nation, File Hills, Prince Albert, Fort Pelly, Gordons First Nation, Sturgeon Landing, Île-à-La-Crosse, Lac La Ronge, Lebret, Muscowequan First Nation, Prince Albert, Regina, Round Lake, Onion Lake First Nation, Duck Lake and Thunder Child First Nation. We are also aware of the up to 40 unmarked graves of children recently located in land surrounding the former Regina Indian Industrial School, which operated from 1890 to 1910.

The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support to those affected. For emotional and crisis referral services, call the 24-Hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419. To learn more, Project Heart provides guidance on teaching youth about https://projectofheart.ca/