In Canada, new arsons of catholic churches on native lands
The World, June 27, 2021
Two new churches were burned down on Saturday 26 June on native territories in western Canada, bringing the total number of churches burned to four, since the discovery of a thousand unmarked graves near former residential schools run by the Catholic Church in British Columbia.
In the early hours of Saturday, St. Ann’s Church and Chopaka Church, both located on strips of aboriginal land in British Columbia, were burned within an hour of each other, federal police said. “Both churches were destroyed,” said Sgt. Jason Bayda of the Canadian Mounted Police in a statement.
The fires occurred two days after news broke of the discovery of more than 750 unmarked graves on the site of a former Catholic Church-run residential school in Marieval. Last month, the identification of the remains of 215 children near another such school had already shocked and outraged the country, illustrating the ordeal suffered for decades by indigenous children in schools run by the Catholic Church.
Authorities consider Saturday’s fires “suspicious and are looking to see if they are related to the June 21 church fires in Penticton and Oliver,” Bayda said. Investigations into the June 21 fires are still ongoing.
The discovery of the graves has rekindled the trauma experienced by some 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children who were cut off from their families, language and culture and forced into 139 residential schools across the country until the 1990s. Many of them were subjected to mistreatment or sexual abuse, and more than 4,000 died, according to a commission of inquiry that concluded that Canada had committed “cultural genocide”.
On Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for his country’s actions, called on the Pope to do the same and did not rule out a criminal investigation. At a press conference, he spoke at length about the “terrible mistakes” of Canada, which for several centuries has pursued a controversial policy of forced assimilation of the First Nations.
Canada. Macabre discoveries multiply in former residential schools
Courrier International (Le Devoir), June 26, 2021
After the painful exhumation of 215 children’s bodies at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, at the end of May, more than 750 graves were revealed at the site of another residential school in Saskatchewan.
The Cowessess First Nation in southern Saskatchewan announced Thursday, June 24, that it has discovered 751 unidentified graves at the site of the former Marieval residential school, once run by Oblate missionaries of the Catholic Church.
“We always knew there were graves here,” said community leader Cadmus Delorme at a press conference attended by journalists from around the world. “Open your minds: this country needs to know the truth and begin a process of reconciliation. There will be more stories [like this]. This is the Cowessess moment of truth,” he added.
The Kamloops precedent
The discovery comes almost a month after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia. The community sent shockwaves around the world when it announced on May 27 that a ground-penetrating radar search had found the remains of 215 children near the former Kamloops residential school.
The same type of technology – ground-penetrating radar – found 751 graves near the former Cowessess residential school, known as Marieval. Chief Cadmus Delorme explained that it was possible that each of the graves contained more than one body. On the other hand, “the machine has a 10 to 15 percent margin of error,” he added, indicating that there are therefore at least 600 people buried in this cemetery. “This is not a mass grave,” he said, unrolling images captured by a drone.
On a grassy area of 44,000 square meters, search teams have installed banners to identify the graves. This is phase one of the search, which was made possible by a grant from Saskatchewan Polytechnic.
The horrors of genocide
“The world is watching as we expose the horrors of genocide,” said Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Aboriginal Nations, which represents the 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.
“This is a crime against humanity. This was an attack on First Nations people. We are proud people. The only crime we have committed as children is that we were born Aboriginal,” he said.
In his opinion, the residential schools were nothing more than “concentration camps”. He told reporters: “Canada will be known as a country that tried to exterminate its First Peoples. Now we have the proof. Proof of what the survivors have been telling for years.”
Not all children
Chief Delorme said he was unable to confirm at this point that all of those buried were children. The elders’ stories have included adults buried in the cemetery, he noted.
It was common for religious people and their families to be buried in the same location as the Aboriginal students who attended the schools. The practice has been documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and some cemeteries where Aboriginal children and teachers are buried still exist, including in British Columbia.
The Marieval residential school was built in 1899 by Catholic Church missionaries. The federal government funded the school beginning in 1901 and operated it by 1969. The school was closed in 1997, after being under the responsibility of the Cowessess First Nation for ten years.
In Cowessess, a cemetery would have been established in 1898, as soon as the Oblates arrived, according to the account given by Cadmus Delorme. “By the 1960s, the burials were probably identified,” he added. “Representatives of the Catholic Church then removed the headstones and today they are unidentified graves.”
Removing headstones is a “criminal” act, he said, making a conclusion that the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) immediately supported. “We therefore consider this a crime scene,” he said. He pledged to continue the search. “And one day there will be a memorial and names on the graves,” he promised.
Chief Delorme further said he is “confident” that the Catholic Church will provide the archival documents needed for his community’s quest. “They have not said no,” he said. The AFNQL has also asked for these files, “so that everyone can be healed once and for all.
A public inquiry demanded
To date, the Oblates have not provided access to the Codex historicus, which detailed the activities of the missionaries, nor to photographs or lists of detailed information on the personnel of the residential schools.
The oblates apologized in 1991 for their role in the residential school system, something the Catholic Church has yet to do, despite calls from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do so.
“The Pope must apologize for what happened to the children of Marieval,” Chief Delorme responded to a question from a Spanish journalist. He added, “The apology is a step in the healing process.”
In a message of solidarity with Cowessess, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation recalled that it had made the same request to the Vatican. “We know too well what the community of Cowessess is going through,” its representatives also wrote.
After him, Chief Bobby Cameron called for “a public inquiry into this genocide.” “We need to find the reasons for the deaths and the names of the children. Our people are entitled to more than apologies and sympathy – although we are grateful. Our people are entitled to justice,” he said.
In its research, the TRC has encountered several challenges in identifying children who died in residential schools. “We will likely never know the number of students who died in residential schools,” its commissioners wrote in the report they released in 2015.
Between 1936 and 1944, the Department of Indian Affairs destroyed 200,000 records. Medical records of residents were also destroyed on a regular basis. Records of residential school deaths are partial: the names of 36% of the children who died were never documented, the gender of 23% of the deceased schoolchildren is unknown, and the place of death of 43% of these young people does not appear in the records, according to the TRC’s work.
Research by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which was established in the wake of the TRC, had so far identified eight students who died at the school between 1932 and 1973 – although the dates of some of the deaths have never been found. Chief Cadmus Delorme said Thursday that children from southeastern and central Saskatchewan, as well as southwestern Manitoba, attended the Marieval residential school.