DISCLAIMER: This story contains distressing details.
Hundreds of individual lights will be placed on the site of a former Cowessess First Nation residential school on Saturday evening to honor those buried in what are believed to be 751 unmarked graves at the site.
Earlier this week, band leaders with the Cowessess First Nation said radar searches penetrating the ground at the former Marieval residential school site uncovered the anonymous graves, sparking anger and sorrow across the countries and around the world.
A wake will be held in the community at 7:30 p.m. CST on Saturday evening, beginning with a cleansing and prayer ceremony.
Then, at 7:51 p.m. CST, a minute’s silence will be observed for those in the Anonymous Tombs, followed by loudspeakers and an observation of the 751 individual solar lights placed at the site.
“These practices, these birth-to-death protocols are all important in Indigenous countries,” said Barry Kennedy, a school survivor who was taken from his family in Carry the Kettle First Nation.
“So to honor all these alumni, these burial sites, with all the traditional protocols, I congratulate the Cowessess First Nation. I support them and I support them.”
Kennedy says many people buried at the site are believed to be those who were forced to attend school, and Saturday’s ceremony – hosted by the Cowessess Youth Council and Chief Red Bear Children’s Lodge – offers both an important recognition both for the survivors and for those who died.
“What does the truth mean to you? “
Kennedy, who now lives in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, says the support of non-Indigenous community members following the news of the Anonymous Graves has been important because it shows Indigenous people are not alone.
However, he remains skeptical of politicians outside the community who have expressed their solidarity.
“It is such a relief that now we are not fighting this alone, that we still do not suffer alone, but when it comes to politicians I am always a suspect,” he said. “Are they just doing that for the votes?” “
Kennedy points out that the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, released more than five years ago, details the horrors and abuse suffered by those forced to attend schools.
To those who are just showing their support: “I would ask them: what does the truth mean to you? What does reconciliation mean to you? Kennedy said.
“This is something we all have to ask ourselves,” he said, noting that reports of mass burial sites in Saskatchewan and British Columbia shed light on a truth already well known to members and leaders of indigenous communities.
WATCH | Chief Cowessess Cadmus Delorme on how his community deals with the discovery of anonymous graves:
DISCLAIMER: This story contains distressing details. Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation talks to Ian Hanomansing about how the community is grappling with the discovery of 751 anonymous graves near a Saskatchewan residential school and the historic racism faced by Indigenous people. 6:42
Jonathan Z. Lerat, a Cowessess First Nation councilor, says Saturday’s vigil will be important for community members as they strive to heal, as well as those in surrounding communities.
“We have loved ones [buried] here neighboring First Nations, [rural municipality], cities, seaside. So we have a lot of visitors who come to pay tribute to us, ”he declared.
Lerat also says the community has lit a four-day fire for those in the anonymous graves, to help them return home.
He said he heard from many in the community who want to ensure that these burial sites are examined thoroughly, with “clear and concise” reviews to determine who is buried there, where they came from and what type. funeral rites have been proposed.
Lerat hopes that support and resources will be deployed in the community to help those who are still affected by both the recent discoveries and the lasting effect of the institutions of forced assimilation, as some elders in the community are still not able to talk about their experiences.
He believes the discovery on Cowessess will help the rest of the world understand the extent of the suffering inflicted by the schools.
“It warms my heart because they were strangers all this time, but now they are recognized,” he said.
Saturday’s vigil will take place under strict COVID-19 protocols, with masks mandatory throughout the event. Attendance will be limited to 150 people, with speakers scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. CST.
Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience and to those triggered by these reports.
A national residential school crisis line was established to provide support to residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.