Support for Cowessess First Nation coming from within and across the country

Following an announcement Thursday that unmarked graves had been found at the former site of Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, support for people in Cowessess First Nation and residential school survivors is coming both from within the First Nation and across the country.

Gathering place in Winnipeg continues to offer support to community

Ray "Co-Co" Stevenson has been volunteering every day as a hand drum singer at a community gathering spot in Winnipeg since June 15. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Following an announcement Thursday that unmarked graves had been found at the former site of Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, an elder and residential school survivor from Cowessess First Nation said she is opening her sweat lodge to people looking for support.

"We don't have to go back, we just have to learn to look after ourselves in a good way," said 80-year-old Florence Sparvier at a news conference held by the First Nation. 

"If you need an elder, people want to come, they can come."

Residential school religious leaders 'very condemning' of Indigenous people, survivor says

2 years ago
Duration 3:41
Florence Sparvier, an 80-year old survivor of Saskatchewan's Marieval Indian Residential School says a lot of the pain that Indigenous people feel comes from the raw mean-spiritedness that permeated life in residential schools.

Cowessess First Nation announced the preliminary findings of 751 unmarked graves at a cemetery at the former site of the Marieval school at the news conference. Support for people in Cowessess and residential school survivors is coming both from within the First Nation and across the country.

Amber Lerat, a survivor of the school, shared a video of the cemetery site on social media. 

She attended Marieval from 1994 until 1997, when the school closed.

Unmarked graves found near site of Marieval Indian Residential School

2 years ago
Duration 1:01
Amber Lerat, a survivor of the school, shared a video of the site on social media.

Her husband Joshua Aisaican, who is also a residential school survivor, danced in tribute earlier this month following the discovery of what are believed to be the unmarked burial sites of children's remains adjacent to another former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Aisaican attended the Lebret (Qu'Appelle) Indian Residential School near Lebret, Sask., from 1983-1986.

Community supports

A sacred fire and support tent offering mental health resource packages, traditional medicines, orange T-shirts and tobacco ties, has been running three days a week, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m., behind 1075 Portage Avenue in Winnipeg.

Eva Wilson-Fontaine is the team lead for Anish Corporation, a group that works with residential school survivors. She says a group of community organizations have chipped in to help with the community fire in Winnipeg. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

Eva Wilson-Fontaine, the team lead for residential schools support group Anish Corporation, has family members who attended Marieval and is helping co-ordinate support.

"We've made this space not only available to residential school survivors, but also Indian day schools, Sixties Scoop, intergenerational [survivors], but for our non-Indigenous friends too, because everybody's feeling it," said Wilson-Fontaine.

Powwow and hand drum singer Ray Co-Co Stevenson, who is Anishinaabe and Cree from Peguis and Manigotagan, is volunteering at the site.

"If there's anybody that chooses to come and they feel that they want to offer tobacco to that fire they can do that," he said.

"If they feel that they need to be smudged down and fanned down because of some of the overwhelming feelings that they have, that's available here, too."

Orange flag flies at half-mast

In Hiawatha First Nation in southern Ontario, Wiigwaas Crafts Supplies and Gifts lowered its orange flag that reads, "Every child should have mattered, even then," to half-mast.

Kim Muskratt, the store's owner, said she lowered the flag in support of Cowessess First Nation, and in honour of those that have been found and have yet to be found. 

"To think how many parents waited for their children to come home and wondered whatever happened to them," she said.

An orange flag has been lowered to half mast in Hiawatha First Nation in Ontario to show solidarity and support for Cowessess First Nation. (Submitted by Kim Muskratt)

Muskratt said her grandmother would hide her father and his brother in a wardrobe to evade the Indian agents that would come to take children in the community to the schools. She would give them water, cookies, and a jar to urinate in, so she could keep them safe. 

Muskratt said that later she and her brothers would get in trouble with her grandmother for speaking Anishinaabemowin because she was still scared that they would be taken away. 

"In order to reconcile there has to be two parties," she said. "We did nothing wrong."'

Support is available for anyone affected by 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 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.

with files from Nic Meloney and Lenard Monkman