Nunavut premier asks ‘how many more’ as 751 more bodies uncovered at former school

The unmarked gravesite is located near Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq called for truth, accountability and meaningful reparations for Indigenous Peoples, following the finding of 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school in Saskatchewan on Thursday. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By Mélanie Ritchot

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq says Indigenous Peoples need justice and accountability after 751 unmarked graves were located at a former Saskatchewan residential school.

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme made the announcement Thursday.

Reacting to the news, Savikataaq asked, “How many more residential school mass grave discoveries are Indigenous Peoples expected to endure?”

“It was already too much when our children were systematically stolen starting in 1883.”

The unmarked graves are located near the former Marieval Indian Residential school, which is about 160 kilometres east of Regina.

The announcement adds to an estimated 215 bodies located in Kamloops, B.C., last month.

Savikataaq called for immediate accountability for all those responsible for the residential school system, apologies to the thousands impacted, and meaningful reparations.

“We need justice,” stated Savikataaq. “Absolute justice for stolen children and destroyed families.”

Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell also reacted strongly to the news, tweeting Thursday that he’s asked city staff to lower the flags outside of city hall indefinitely, except for the Pride flag which has just been raised.

“Next council meeting, I will leave my chair to [make a] motion to immediately tax the churches,” Bell wrote.

Back at Cowessess First Nation, Chief Delorme said “every one of our Cowessess members has a family member buried [at the gravesite],” in a written statement.

“The pain we are feeling is real.”

He said the First Nation’s goal is to locate, identify and put a mark down to honour its loved ones.

Unmarked graves where 751 former students were buried have been discovered near Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. (Photo from the Societé historique de Saint-Boniface, Reference No. SHSB 1458)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a written statement the findings in Marieval and Kamloops are part of a larger tragedy.

“No child should have spent their precious youth subjected to terrible loneliness and abuse,” he said.

“No families should have been robbed of the laughter and joy of their children playing, and the pride of watching them grow in their community.”

Trudeau also said the federal government will provide Indigenous communities across Canada funding and resources to bring these “terrible wrongs” to light.

The territory’s MP, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, tweeted about the findings in Saskatchewan and said, “Canada, do not get used to these numbers.”

“Do not let them become statistics.”

Marieval Indian Residential School was run by the Roman Catholic Church between 1886 and 1970. In the 1960s, the church removed the headstones at the site, stated Delorme.

Saskatchewan had the highest number of residential schools out of the provinces and territories in Canada.

The last of 139 Canada’s residential schools closed in 1996. There were 13 in Nunavut.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented former students’ stories of torture, rape and other abuses.

Premier Savikataaq wrote to the federal government in 2019, calling on them to extradite a former priest, Johannes Rivoire, who is accused of abusing Inuit children in the 1960s while serving as a missionary at a former residential school in Chesterfield Inlet.

Rivoire, who is now in his 90s and lives in France, is also known to have worked in Arviat, Naujaat, Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake.

Those who are in distress over the revelation of the children’s deaths can contact the 24-hour Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 to access emotional supports and crisis referral if needed.

The IRSSS (Indian Residential School Survivors Society) Emergency Crisis line is also available 24/7 for those that may need counselling support: 1-800-721-0066.

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(29) Comments:

  1. Posted by History on

    Where are all the graves of the children who died in the arctic in past centuries? Why aren’t most of those marked? Why did so many die? Where are the answers to those questions? How come nobody even asks them? Why have people always been so afraid to confront child abusers in their own families and communities, even to this day?

    It’s tragic that kids died in such large numbers in bygone days. Disease, hunger, and accidents took so many before we had modern agriculture, supply ships and planes, and health care. Pointing fingers endlessly at others for deaths that happened long ago, when their caretakers are long dead and we don’t know the challenges they faced, helps nobody.

    Cemeteries grow over, markers fall down, names and stories get forgotten. It has always been this way, and it most likely always will. Stop giving activists control your emotions and your energies. Focus on the kids in your own communities who you can actually help.

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  2. Posted by Beyond shocked on

    This is devastating, but likely not the last unfortunate surprise. Although I hope I’m wrong. Religion and statistics running the same lines. And the flag thing! Being homosexual is above mourning? Why is this part of the message? I cant believe that was even part if this!

    Canada is a people, now even as we share pain for these people, pride members are on top. Is this what it takes to feel included? Come on.

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    • Posted by Floki’s Boat on

      There are hierarchies of oppression in the modern progressive worldview and the LGBT(etc) movement ranks very highly among those. That is how I would explain this. Though I agree it’s incoherent, unnecessary and arguably a little embarrassing to the community to keep the pride flag up all by itself. I doubt anyone in the LBGT community asked for that or would be offended if it were at half mast. I also doubt the city has a sophisticated perspective on it either, they have merely absorbed the surrounding political vapour.

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  3. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    Please get it right. These events are terrible enough without irresponsible journalism, and the remarks of the premier, making it worse. These are not mass graves. These are unmarked graves.
    And why does the Pride flag remain up when other flags are at half-mast, The fact that it has just been raised shouldn’t make a difference. Make a decision. Flags should be either up or down.

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    • Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

      Next council meeting, I will leave my chair to [make a] motion to immediately tax the churches,” Bell wrote

      All four of them Kenny. Give your head a shake. What is that going to do?

      And I agree with Kenn Harper. Bring down that Pride flag to half-mast as well.

      Iqaluit wants to be a city lets start acting like a Capital.

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      • Posted by Huvaguuq on

        A municipal, territorial or national flag represents all people. There is no need for other, hang them in your offices.

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      • Posted by boris pasternak on

        Leave the churches alone Paul. How are the homeless going to eat or sleep in Iqaluit. Think before you write. Where else are the Iqaluit poor going to buy decent clothing? Not everyone in Nunavut has your kind of $$$. Too many poor, too many have nots on many things. If you want to go after churches, go after the Vatican….It will be hard; this institution does not have an embassy in Ottawa.

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        • Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

          I believe you misread my post, Boris. Perhaps I should have used quotation marks around that first sentence to be clearer.
          I was quoting from Mayor Bell in the news article. Not my words. Taxing Iqaluit churches in revenge is ludicrous.

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    • Posted by unfortunate on

      You’re 100% right that these were unmarked graves and not mass graves, but the fact that you’re so focused on this makes it seem like you’re trying to deflect how awful this still is. Being hung up on improper use of terminology and not the issue at hand makes you look like you have no empathy. I’m sure that’s not the case, but that’s how it looks.

      Probably would have been better to just not mention anything about the pride flag and just lower it also with the other flags…. but again, taking such huge offense to it and bringing up flag protocol makes you seem a little… privileged?

      Pick your battles folks. And if you pick this one, don’t come in so ragging hot.

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      • Posted by Pride flag on

        The pride flag thing is a bit cringey. I doubt the mayor consulted with LGBTQ folks on this.

        Now the LGBTQ community is caught in this weird unnecessary controversy, which started with a council thinking they were doing the right thing, and engulfed by angry conservative keyboard warriors. The majority of the LGBTQ community just want to be treated like everyone else, not treated like this bizarre monolith that should be shielded from all criticisms. But the mayor and council decided on their own to make them stand out and manufactured an awkward unnecessary controversy where no one wins… except for maybe the conservatives who eek out a few more votes with their little divide and conquer mind games.

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        • Posted by Pork Pie on

          Great observations here. A paradox seems to loom under all this, where the LGBTQ community has been—most likely without their consent—excluded from participation in the collective grief most of the country is experiencing right now. How infantilizing to think they can’t be, or don’t wish to be, treated as equal to the rest of us in our shared humanity.

          Am I missing something? If you are a member of the LGBTQ community, it would great to hear your perspectives on this.

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  4. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    Leaving the Pride flag at full mast while other flags are at half mast is a breach of Canadian protocol. Protocol dictates that all flags should be flown at half mast or not flown at all. So the City must lower the Pride flag to half-mast.

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    • Posted by Okpik on

      This is pretty much the worst time to be doubling down on “Canadian protocol” as something we should be giving weight to! Read the room much?

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  5. Posted by Jimmy on

    When my parents come over from Holland in the 1950’s they needed to get or prove they had two vaccination prior to arrival, tuberculosis and smallpox. Tuberculosis had been wiped out in Europe before WWII and was a non-issue for them during the war. It remains shocking that the battle over tuberculosis is still going on in many indigenous communities in Canada.

    I think and know what from what I’ve read that most indigenous children who died while in the care of residential school died not of abuse but rather tuberculosis and other diseases that their bodies were not immune to unlike their instructors and most of these deaths occurred not recently but rather prior to 1960.

    As for the ministers open question how many are out there, that hard to say but recent stories have suggested that for the Inuit deaths of 9,000 this is in addition to the 4200 suggested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

    I do think it is wrong to call graduates of Residential schools “survivors”, suggesting that most had a very hard time and life was like Concentration Interments.

    The reality is that without the residential schools most of the current ministers or government official of indigenous decent would not have achieved sufficient learned to hold their current positions.

    While much is being said that schools should have been locally staffed and not 100’s or even 1000’s on KM south the fact remains that education while basic was achieved and far more graduated than perished.

    Staffing of local schools remains a challenge to this day. Few well qualified teachers want to do the work. A good friend of mine taught English in Great Whale 2002/3. He did not hold a teacher degree and no way could he teach in Ontario. He said for my first year I was supposed to have 25 students but during the year he never saw 25 students once. Some would be there for weeks on end then not show up for a few weeks and than back again. Others never showed up until the last 2 months. The excuse was always oh my family went out in the bush or we were hunting. He said he administered final exams to just 5 students that first year and felt obligated to pass them at they attended far more than anyone else.

    If you are looking for the burred one need to look at schools yes but also any facility where TB was being treated. The numbers will be high.

    As for the “Missing” the opening paragraph on missing kids says it all most missing are “Runaways”. One only need to look at homelessness in any city to find that runaways are still a problem not unique to indigenous peoples of Canada.

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    • Posted by Inuk on

      All the “problems” you stated in your comment are results of this “Canadian” history. Results of stolen children, identities. Trauma passed down from generation to generation. You’ll never understand, and that’s ok. Not your fight.

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  6. Posted by trapper Don on

    OH Canada has DEEP POCKETS, GET EVERY NICKEL you have coming.

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  7. Posted by Fair journalism on

    I can’t wait to read an article where they point to the fact that there are probably hundreds of thousands of unmarked Graves across the country. There are abandoned cemeteries in many places that span hundreds of years. Unmarked Graves with long rotted wooden grave markers are no unheard of. Investigate sure, but stop jumping to conclusions for click bait.

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    • Posted by Uniformed on

      Are any of those unmarked graves in the lawns of schools? The people that are in those unmarked graves, were any of them kids that were taken away by the RCMP and forced to attend residential schools where they suffered abuse, rape and murder at the hands of the nuns and priests? Do the unmarked graves have living parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, wondering why they didn’t come home? Were they told how the kids passed way? Were some of them buried just in sheets, no casket?

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      • Posted by Kool-Aid on

        Aboriginal people did not traditionally use caskets, so if that is a horror, there’s a whole lot to be horrified about over the centuries in northern Canada. As to the rest of your message, you are someone who is very heavily influenced by activist propaganda.

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        • Posted by Missing the Point on

          You’re completely missing the point. I’ve been to forgotten settlements in my home province where there’s graves long grown over and often just marked with a simple wooden cross, but this is completely different case. The long forgotten graves I’ve seen where for people who were still properly buried whose families still mourned them and they did not die at the hands of abuse.
          The graves in this article are from children whose parents probably never even knew their child died. And one can only surmise based on the information that is coming to light that many of the children that died in the care of residential schools died in circumstances that would normally lead to murder charges.

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        • Posted by Uniformed on

          Because I am pointing out what normal people would be asking makes me heavily influenced by activist propaganda? Normal people with heart wouldn’t want any parents to go through want is being uncovered. The majority of the unmarked graves are children. Their families deserve to know what happened and how they passed away. They deserve to know why their loved one didn’t come home.
          If you can’t see the point that I am trying to make, you are a heartless human-being.

          • Posted by Janice Howard on

            What parents knew and were told is not known in most cases. For example, some chiefs asked for these schools and expressed a preference for boarding schools over day schools because they wanted their children educated and clothed, and because they could not achieve that as they spent a good amount of time “out on the land”. If, for example, while the adults were out on the land when a measles outbreak hit a school, it might have been impossible to reach to families in a timely manner.

            Your comment indicates your belief that all children were forced into the schools against the will of their people, and that all children “suffered abuse, rape and murder at the hands of the nuns and priests”. That is simply not true, and persisting in writing such things does nothing short of traumatize and victimize people who never even went to the schools.
            I read an article in which one young indigenous woman had her four year old son to the Whitehorse memorial of hundreds of shoes. He asked how did the children die, and she told him they died because the people who were suppose to care for them hurt them instead. What will happen to that boy?

            This paper, commissioned for and accepted by the TRC, discusses a number of issues associated with the information currently being provided: https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/AAA-Hamilton-cemetery-FInal.pdf

  8. Posted by Take a lesson on

    The Mayor, Premier and the MP should look to Chief Cadmus Delorme on how to handle these terrible times. While the three northern “leaders” run to reporters and Twitter to get their outage sound bites, Chief Cadmus Delorme has shown calmness, compassion and logic over the last couple of days. It is a breath of fresh air in these days. The entire discovery amounts to 751 unmarked graves, next to a church and former residential school. Stand by and wait while Chief Cadmus Delorme leads his nation through the process of figuring out whos graves these are.

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  9. Posted by Northern Guy on

    First off, this isn’t a mass grave it’s individual unmarked graves. Second, even Chief Delorme has acknowledged that not all the graves are those of children. This was a parish cemetery for many years before being deconsecrated. The media should let the Coweses investigation take its course before descending into hyperbolic hysterics.

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  10. Posted by Arise on

    This stinks to high heaven.

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  11. Posted by Janice Howard on

    Unfortunately, there is a lot of mis-information about the Cowesses graves.

    First, there are not 751 graves of children who attended the school. There are adults buried there. In the article I am linking, a woman mentioned her mother, father, sister and nephew, the latter died in a MVA.

    Second, the graves are not “found” or “discovered”.

    Third, Chief Cadmus Delorme knew these things, could have made them clear and saved people a lot of grief. But, he chose to leave out left out some of the details he provided two years ago on the same story.

    https://leaderpost.com/news/saskatchewan/this-is-true-truth-and-reconciliation-70000-put-toward-cowessess-gravesite-upgrades

    Third, similar things are true of Kamloops. Chief Louis Clexlixqen, hereditary chief of the Kamloops Indian Band serving from about 1852 until his death in 1915. He is buried in this cemetery. This man was said to be one of the best chiefs in the Interior, but apparently insufficient for his descendants to maintain his monument. He was the main mover to get this church built, and he advocated for children to attend IRS and Indian Day Schools. He is thought to have been instrumental in having the Catholic Church take over the Kamloops IRS, which was initially not run by the church. Here is a link to some recent photos to the other cemetery on the Kamloops IR, where he is buried:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/bvanwal/albums/72157689646012535/with/47508001771/

  12. Posted by Janice Howard on

    This is part of what the TRC report says about the Cowessess IRS where 751 burials are falsely claimed to have been “found” or “discovered”:

    “Events followed a different trajectory in Saskatchewan from that in Ontario. In February 1970, David Ahenakew, chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, protested the proposed closing of the Onion Lake and Grayson residences. He said the decisions were being made with no consideration for the ‘feeling of the Indian people who are directly or indirectly affected by the paternalistic and inhuman move.’ The closure of these institutions, he wrote, ‘is not the wish of the Indian people a affected.’ In response, D. K. F. Wattie, the head of Indian Affairs’ Guidance Services Division, visited the reserves that would be affected by the closing of the Marieval residence (formerly the Cowessess school at Grayson). In his report, he wrote, ‘The Indian people I spoke to were unanimous in their belief that there is a continuing need for the Marieval residence to accommodate children with poor home conditions.’ The department estimated that there were about twenty students in that category.”. . .

    [Discussion re. foster care clipped for space.]

    “The campaign to keep the Marieval residence open was successful. In June 1975, it was still in operation. It had fifty-two children in residence, fifty of whom were there because of problems in their homes. Its existence was always precarious. In 1978, Sol Sanderson, the first vice-president of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, wrote to Indian A airs, opposing the proposed closure of the Grayson (Marieval), Duck Lake, and Lestock (Muskowekwan, also spelled as Muscowequan) residences. He pointed out that ‘all areas in the province are experiencing a serious shortage of space, both for education services and for placement of children.'”

    The History, Part 2 – The History, Part 2 | 1939 to 2000, p. 94.

  13. Posted by Janice Howard on

    This paper was prepared for the TRC. It provides a great deal of information and insight into what has been long-since known about the locations of the cemeteries and burials, and some details about the children’s deaths and burials. At best, it demonstrates that there is information out there and available that people are ignoring or unaware of. At worst, it demonstrates that indigenous and non-indigenous “leaders”, the media, and radicals are manipulating people into a frenzy in part by misrepresenting what is actually known:

    https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/AAA-Hamilton-cemetery-FInal.pdf

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