Canada's #751: Teaching a terrible history

Updated: Jun 27, 2021


(Cred: D. Heimbecker) The doors of St. Paul's Co-Cathedral were painted in protest after the discovery of 715 (sic) unmarked graves near the former Marieval Residential School on the Cowessess First Nation on Thursday.
(Cred: D. Heimbecker) The doors of St. Paul's Co-Cathedral were painted in protest after the discovery of 715 (sic) unmarked graves near the former Marieval Residential School on the Cowessess First Nation on Thursday.

Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowesses spoke with such compassion and conviction this week. How he kept it together, I do not know.



Some powerful images graced the shores of Saskatoon this week. Cowesses Chief Cadmus Delorme states that 751 unmarked graves have been found in the First Nation.



As the Saskatoon local and new Canadian Dr. Hassan Masri mentioned in a post this evening:



"It's a tough feeling to learn of such dark history, it's a tough feeling to learn of some dark ugly secrets about something you love so dearly.



"...But if I truly love Canada then I must strive for growth - I am determined to support a nation where the original owners of the land are living the best life, the one that they deserve."



Chief Cadmus says Phase 1 covered 44,000 m2 of land with ground-penetrating radar (GPR), which was used in partnership with Sask Polytechnic [a shout out to Sask Poly 👍 ].



He notes that the radar used has a 10-15% error and that 751 represents the hits from that radar. The real number exists somewhere between the 600-800 range.



Chief Cadmus notes that these graves are unmarked - they could be from people in the community, attending the church, or the residential school. They believe the remains are of both children and adults.



The gravesite was run by the Roman Catholic church until 1981 when the First Nation took over. (The Catholic Church was the largest party instituting and managing these schools, and yes, there were other Christian parishes involved.) It may be that the Catholic church removed headstones in 1960 - Chief Cadmus confirms that the First Nation did not remove headstones and that the removal of headstones is considered a crime in Canada.



While the finding of such a large gravesite is indeed disturbing - as a Canadian I can't help but think that this is a step forward. It isn't good news, to be sure, but at the same time, this is a step in the right direction - and that momentum is required.



We have the stories from survivors and our elders but now we have been shown the evidence too, as gruesome as it may be.



We as a country need to be taught about the terrible things that our government and our churches were actively involved in.



We need to teach ourselves and others how poorly the Canadian government treated Indigenous people. From controlling the movement of the reserves to prohibiting the selling of their goods to expropriating their land to the residential schools, we need to tell these stories.


I will admit my lack of understanding prior to the last few months, but the more I focus on learning about the trials and tribulations that were placed on the Indigenous people throughout Canadian (and pre-Canadian) history, the more I understand.



Phase 1 includes two known locations. Phase 2 will continue on the two sites as well as investigating other sites known within the First Nation boundaries.


FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron says that they will work to uncover all graves across the province. He is currently speaking very strong words which are appropriate. Chief Cadmus says that they will also work on linking as many names as they can to the graves they have found.


"Let the world know that Canada had concentration camps: they were called residential schools." - FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron

Chief Bobby also states that Saskatchewan's Premier Moe and Prime Minister Trudeau have been in communication with him and have committed to working forward.


This news is getting global coverage: a German news station has asked how the Catholic church has responded. Chief Cadmus says that Archbishop Don (Bolen) has visited the site a few times and is committed to working with the First Nation. Chief Cadmus states that the Catholic church has not said "no" to releasing their records; Chief Cadmus states it's simply a matter of finding those records at this time. And now a reporter from Spain is asking questions.



Chief Cadmus states that the Pope now needs to apologize. "An apology is one stage of many in the healing journey."



Chief Cadmus has stated that he is optimistic, that the Catholic church will work with them, as will the federal and provincial governments. This is a positive step forward as we work towards reconciliation.



So, my dear friends, if you see an Indigenous person in rough shape on the street or in a house that looks a bit unkempt, remember this:



This is trauma that we don't just get over.



We know this already, on an intimate level, from studying the battlefields we do and the people held within them.



This will take generations to get over, and as with every slow recovery, we need to be compassionate, supportive, and understanding of the Indigenous people in our own communities.


And yes, we do need to call out our relatives and friends who just want everyone "treated equally".



Imagine if you were giving a eulogy explaining how special that someone was to you, and then someone grabs the mic from you and says "actually all people are special"



That's what "all lives matter" sounds like, and it's pretty embarrassing.



What we need is action and compassion, now and into the future.



The short version is that things are always more complicated than they seem from the outside but ‘complicated’ is not an excuse for not acting.



 

RESOURCES



There's a long road ahead, but choosing the right path starts with the right resources. Take a look, and get exploring!



#1) Some wonderful people and organizations to follow and learn from - wow I cannot stress enough how much I love all of these people and organizations:

https://www.instagram.com/indigenous_baddie/

https://www.instagram.com/notoriouscree/

https://www.instagram.com/marikasila/

https://www.fsin.ca/



#2) Ways to be an indigenous ally:

https://www.amnesty.org.au/10-ways-to-be-an-ally-to.../



#3) Confronting a Dark History - Residential Schools:

https://www.thestar.com/.../canada-confronts-dark-history...



#4) Notorious Cree Youtube - A Healing Dance:

https://www.youtube.com/notoriouscree



#5) Marika Sila's Podcast on Redpath Radio:

https://open.spotify.com/show/6AK0mOJ5aDJB4WSrGqL0Vw...



#6) Movies to Watch: Where the Spirit Lives (Canadian 1988) Rabbit Proof Fence (Australia 2002)



#7) An Introduction to Understanding Indigenous Perspectives in Canada (Online Learning Course) https://www.fnuniv.ca/partnerships/reconciliation/


#8) Documentary - "Unrepentant" Kevin Annett and Canada’s Genocide (2006) Shocking documentary on Canada's darkest secret - the deliberate extermination & abuse of Indigenous peoples in church-run Indian Residential Schools - and a clergyman who blew the whistle on his own church and make public these crimes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swGEK8duSiU


#9) Witness Blanket is a large-scale traveling art installation inspired by a woven blanket, made out of hundreds of items reclaimed from Residential Schools, churches, government buildings and traditional and cultural structures including Friendship Centres, band offices, treatment centres and universities, from across Canada. The Witness Blanket stands as a national monument to recognise the atrocities of the Indian Residential School era, honour the children, and symbolise ongoing reconciliation. You can donate by going here: http://witnessblanket.ca