Smudge and prayers in the tipi began at 7:30 p.m. followed by a moment of silence at 7:51 p.m. for the estimated 751 unmarked graves recently discovered. About 150 people were in attendance.
Chasity Delorme is a member of Cowessess First Nation, and although she didn’t attend the school, her parents and grandparents on both sides of her family did.
“It was important for me to be with my community, with my leadership, and take part in the process of honouring the children that went through residential school – the survivors who went through,” Delorme said.
“We still have family members, my grandmother at 98-years-old still blesses us with her life and she attended this school. It means a lot to me because I’m a part of her legacy.”
While the discovery shocked many people, Delorme said the reality of what took place in residential schools was always present.
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“What went through my heart and my mind is really nothing different from what we’ve been going through for many years, hundreds of years,” Delorme said.
“Ultimately, what went through my mind is that finally the nation, the world is going to hear about our historical trauma from a more public perspective, more open … it’s no longer hidden.”
Jonathan Z. Lerat is a band councillor with Cowessess First Nation and emphasized the importance of Saturday’s vigil and acknowledged the work that still needs to be done.
“Once we found out the numbers, we knew we had to do something to acknowledge the unmarked graves and let the public know and be aware that we do know where their loved ones are,” Lerat said.
“Now, we’re going to start putting names to these unmarked graves.”
He said the community has some old records from on and around the First Nation that will help find some of the names.
That, along with the recent news that the Catholic religious community that operated residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia is releasing all of its records will go a long way, he said.
Delorme said although there is a ways to go in the reconciliation process, the public awareness caused by the discoveries has been encouraging.
“Now, we can have our ceremonies that need to be done for our children that was never done all of those years ago.”
Lerat said he recognizes the accountability and apologies coming from the different government officials, but would like to see more resources put towards survivors and their families along with those triggered by the discoveries.
Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access the 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.