Saskatoon

RCMP pledge to help if Cowessess First Nation pursues criminal charges for alleged bulldozing of grave markers

Saskatchewan RCMP say they will work with Cowessess First Nation leaders if they pursue criminal charges over the apparent bulldozing of grave markers.

First Nations, church officials say graves may have been bulldozed by a priest in the 1960s

Ground penetrating radar work began at the start of this month and will be used in the future to aide the Cowessess First Nation in locating more unmarked gravesites, Chief Cadmus Delorme said. (Submitted by Cowessess First Nation)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Saskatchewan RCMP say they'll work closely with the Cowessess First Nation if officials decide to pursue charges over the apparent bulldozing of its grave markers.

This week, Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme announced the discovery of 751 unmarked graves in the community.

"We will continue to work together with the FSIN and Cowessess First Nation leadership as next steps are considered and they determine if or how they wish the RCMP to be involved," Saskatchewan RCMP wrote in an emailed statement Friday to CBC News.

This week, both Delorme and the Archdiocese of Regina said they were told the site was bulldozed by a priest in the 1960s following a dispute with the former chief.

Delorme said Cowessess members consider the entire site a "crime scene." He said they'll consult elders, other experts, the provincial Cemeteries Act and other laws before they proceed.

"This confirmation will come with more conversations at home," Delorme said in a message Friday. "We are going to look more into this." 

An archdiocese official said they have no further information, but "we trust Chief Cadmus, Cowessess Knowledge Keepers, and Elders implicitly on this." They said the Oblate order of priests, which operated the school for most of its nearly 100-year history, might have more information.

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said the band will consider a criminal complaint over the apparent bulldozing of headstones at the local cemetery. More than 700 unmarked graves have been identified. (Nicholas Frew/CBC)

Rev. Ken Thorson of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate said he'll look into the bulldozing allegations, but had not heard them until this week.

"I am not questioning the memory of those from the Cowessess community who share the story, and I agree that such an act would be inexcusable, but the allegation is quite new to me," Thorson said in an email Friday.

Many have called for the Oblates to release all records relating to Cowessess, Kamloops and other residential schools. Other churches released such records years ago.

The Oblates issued another statement Friday reiterating their commitment to providing the records at some point, subject to privacy legislation.

The Saskatchewan RCMP statement also acknowledged the historic role RCMP played in the residential school system.

"Our actions must be respectful of the immense grief the people of Cowessess First Nation continue to suffer. We know we have enforced racist and discriminatory legislation and policies."

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419. A Saskatchewan-based line is now available by calling 306-522-7494. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Warick

Reporter

Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.

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