The discovery of 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school by Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan was felt by many across the country and around the world.
The grand chiefs of the Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO) and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) held a joint press conference to reflect on the news, which was announced moments earlier.
“Of course we are all filled with sadness as we think about the people in Cowessess Saskatchewan,” said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee during Thursday’s press conference.
“I think Canada is now cognizant of a reality it has tried to ignore for 154 years. The truth is finally being revealed and it’s an ugly, painful history. But I think Canadians must realize that this country was founded on an aggressive assimilation policy at the expense of 150,000 of our children. And about 6,000 of them never made it home.”
SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said the news from Kamloops and Cowessess — and those that will follow — is of international importance.
“I think it’s important that the world reflects on what exactly happened here because we are talking about genocide of a people, the killing of children, and then the hiding and denying of the truth. That is what the record shows as it relates to Canada and its treatment of Indigenous children over the last 200-some years,” he said in the press conference.
Settee echoed the same thoughts and said Canada can no longer conceal what happened in these institutions.
“Canada can no longer hide the hidden truth. We want the world to know that an atrocity was committed in this country and this country was founded on assimilation policies that killed our people and killed our children in residential schools, and that Canada cannot go into an international committee and try to chastise people for injustices when the injustices committed on our land has not been addressed,” he said.
As for residential schools in Manitoba, the provincial government announced $2.5 million in funding to investigate burial sites in the province.
Daniels said the exact use of that money has yet to be determined but that families need to take the lead.
“We haven’t had a discussion with the province yet on exactly how we think that those funds should be utilized although we’re taking the same approach, again I stated earlier, with the families sort of taking the lead, getting a bit of background on all of the residential schools,” he said.
“I think we had about nine in southern Manitoba, and so we want to be able to get an idea of how many of our citizens had attended there and what records we do have.”
Daniels added that he will be travelling to Kamloops beginning on Monday, while making a stop in Cowessess to pay his respects.
A caravan that has elders and residential school survivors will also be travelling to Kamloops at the same time as Daniels.
The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide emotional and crisis referral services to former residential school students. It is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419. All Indigenous Peoples can access the Hope for Wellness Help Line at www.hopeforwellness.ca or by phoning 1-855-242-3310