Devastating news is coming out of Saskatchewan after hundreds of gravesites at a residential school are being uncovered.
Stuck into the ground on Cowessess First Nation are orange flags, one meter by one meter apart. These mark the gravesites of what FSIN says is at least 751 people, all connected to one place, Marieval Indian Residential School's 44,000 square meters. This school operated from 1899 to 1997.
"This was a crime against humanity, an assault against First Nation people," Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron says. "Pray for all of these children and their families in the community of Cowessess."
This site is not a mass grave. The hits found with ground-penetrating radar could be both children and adults, from Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba. The margin of error of the 751 hits is 10 per cent. It is believed that adults from Cowessess could also be buried there. If the child was not baptized or a baby died, the body will not be on this site and buried elsewhere.
"The truth is there, everybody has to reset maybe the ignorance or the accidental racism that the education system has told before it is already being changed. Investments in healing from the core outways have to happen. Once it is given and told and accepted, then reconciliation will prevail," Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme says.
Cowessess Knowledge Keeper Florence Barbier attended this residential school, as well as a school in Lorette.
"They made us believe we didn't have souls," Barbier says.
She says their spirituality was stripped when they went to the schools. She says they were condemning the students, saying their parents and grandparents were heathens. Barbier is the third generation in her family who went to these schools, saying the schools reinforced the message that their families are condemed to all students.
Delorme says the graves were previously marked, but the Catholic church removed these headstones.
"We did not remove the headstones and removing headstones is a crime in this country," says Delorme.
He says they are treating the site as a crime scene.
Cameron says justice is needed.
"This is just the beginning of the number of children found," Cameron says. "Canada can start by handing over all of these records. Churches can start by handing over all of these records."
Cowessess First Nations Chief Cadmus Delorme says their records were moved to Winnipeg in the 1970s, with the exception of a community member who refused to hand over one book of records.
"We have full faith that the Roman Catholic will release our records," Delorme says. "The Pope needs to apologize for what has happened."
Delorme says they have been working with their local diocese.
Cowessess and FSIN have spoken with the Prime Minister, who has given them his full support.
Work will begin, identifying the bodies and giving them names on their headstones. This work will continue through the province.
Delorme is asking for solidarity with them as they heal from the traumatic events.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is calling for more supports for Survivors.
"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," they say in a statement.
They say Canada must act now to honour the children lost.
For those in need of support, the Residential School crisis line is 1-866-925-4419. Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations has established a second number for Saskatchewan residents at 1-306-522-7494.