Riders ‘heartbroken and deeply impacted’ by discovery of 751 unmarked graves at Saskatchewan residential school

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Mosaic Stadium will be lit in orange and flags lowered to half mast for the second time in a month following the discovery of 751 unmarked graves at a Marieval residential school in Saskatchewan.

The revelation was made in a press conference Thursday by Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations chief Bobby Cameron and Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme following the completion of a ground penetrating radar investigation that began on June 2.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders issued a statement in support of their local First Nations community.

“The Saskatchewan Roughriders are heartbroken and deeply impacted by the discovery of 751 unmarked graves found at the former site of the Marieval Residential School. 751 people, mostly children, who were loved and cherished by their families, did not return home.

We mourn with Cowessess First Nation, and with all the families and survivor of Canada’s residential school system. Sadly we know that this is just the beginning as the search for unmarked graves continues across Saskatchewan.

As we work through this unspeakable tragedy, we want the Indigenous community to know we share in their grief and sorrow and their calls for Truth and Reconciliation”

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support to those affected: 1-866-925-4419.

140 kilometres east of Regina, the Marieval Indian Residential School operated from 1898 to 1997. The cemetery site was controlled by the Roman Catholic Church until the First Nation took over the site in the 1970s.

The majority of the children who attended the school came from Treaty 4 territory in southern Saskatchewan, while some came from south central Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba.

Cowesses Chief Cadmus Delorme believes that the graves, which are attached to a marked portion of the cemetery, may have been marked at some point, but that the church removed the markers at some point in the 1960s.

“This is not a mass grave site. These are unmarked graves,” Delorme said.

It is not immediately clear how many of the 751 graves belong to children who died while attending the residential school. Delorme added that oral stories within Cowesses First Nation describe both children and adults buried at the site and some graves may belong to individuals who attended the church or were from nearby towns.

The community is now treating the site “like a crime scene” as they begin the process of discovering the names of individuals buried there.

The news comes on the heels of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School last month by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc people, prompting national outcry.