WWF-Canada is deeply saddened by the finding of 751 unmarked graves by Cowessess First Nation at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. We share in the mourning of these children and adults, the 215 children from Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation found last month at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C., and all the victims of Canada’s residential school system.
Before these recent findings, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation confirmed the identities of 4,117 children who died while attending residential school — a figure that Indigenous leaders have long said drastically underrepresents the true number. The uncovering of these graves has given us a window into how many more deaths are still unaccounted for; how many more unmarked graves exist across the nation.
Our country has reached a long-overdue reckoning point. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission made 94 calls to action in 2015, six of which pertained to children who went missing and/or died in the residential school system. We are joining calls from the Indigenous community and others to identify the victims at the Saskatchewan and Kamloops sites (and all sites, both known and found in the future), determine their cause of death and have that information provided to families.
We also echo calls for the Government of Canada to fund full investigations of all former residential school sites (in keeping with the TRC recommendations), for criminal charges to be investigated against any surviving perpetrators of the residential school system, and for centres of support and healing for survivors and their families to be created.
These are crucial, long-overdue steps in Canada’s reconciliation process and recognizing the ongoing reality of colonialism in Canada. Our healing as a nation cannot begin until our government takes clear and decisive action to fulfill all the calls to action outlined in the TRC.
At WWF-Canada, we will continue to engage actively with the reconciliation process as it relates to our work, supporting Indigenous-led conservation and actively seeking Indigenous partners, knowledge and guidance. We all share a collective responsibility to move reconciliation forward, and to ensure Canada’s government moves beyond symbolic gestures and half-measures, and works toward proper justice for Indigenous peoples.