'Every child matters': Manitoba reacts to discovery of unmarked gravesites at former residential school in Saskatchewan
WINNIPEG -- Many in Manitoba are reacting to another discovery of an unmarked gravesite at a former residential school in Canada.
Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan said it has found 751 unmarked gravesites after ground-penetrating radar was used at the Marieval Indian Residential School site, which started back on June 2.
This comes after 215 children were found buried at a former residential school in Kamloops.
Following the discovery in Saskatchewan, the Southern Chiefs' Organization (SCO) and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) released a joint statement Thursday expressing their grief over the latest discovery.
"We know there were going to be more discoveries such as this; however, nothing truly prepares you emotionally, especially when we consider the sheer volume in this particular case," SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a statement. "I join my fellow First Nation leaders in expressing my deepest condolences to the families and communities of these little ones who were stolen away from them."
MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee also offered his condolences.
"Without truth, there can be no reconciliation," said Settee. "We continue to call on Canada to recognize the residential schools as an act of genocide. We also call on all governments to continue working with First Nations to support investigations into the unmarked burial sites we are expecting to find at all residential schools."
Eileen Clarke, Manitoba's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Relations said in a statement posted on Twitter that thoughts and prayers are with the Cowessess First Nation, survivors, families and everyone impacted.
"We stand united with Indigenous communities across the country during this difficult time and are committed to moving quickly to start the important work here in Manitoba with our Indigenous partners," said Clarke.
Premier Brian Pallister responded to Clarke's comments saying the discovery is "deeply saddening."
"We must not shy away from this truth but learn from it as we move forward together in a spirit of reconciliation," said Pallister.
Manitoba Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew also took time Thursday to discuss the gravesites, offering his condolences to the community.
"This is an issue that affects a lot of people in Winnipeg, a lot of people in Manitoba," said Kinew. "For some context, the Cowessess First Nation has an annual Christmas party here in Winnipeg for many of their off-reserve band members, who live here in this city and they do so in other communities around the prairies. So we know that even for that community of Cowessess, the reach and the shadow cast by this announcement, is very long."
Kinew said when these announcements are heard, this should spark action amongst Canadians to make this country a better place and also hold governments and organizations such as churches accountable to ensure they do the right thing.
"(We) ensure we live up to that phrase that every child learns in schools today, every child matters."
Winnipeg city council held a moment of silence during Thursday morning's council meeting and afterward, Mayor Brian Bowman addressed the latest findings.
"Given what we know about residential schools, these two recent discoveries shouldn't surprise anyone in Canada. But that doesn't take away from the horror of finding them," said Bowman.
Flags at City Hall and other municipal buildings were lowered to half-mast and the Winnipeg sign is being lit orange and dimmed for four days.