COUSES FIRST NATION – Carol LaVallie listened to the singing, dancing and praying of members of the Cowes First Nation on Thursday afternoon at the former Marival Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
More than 60 years ago, she was dreaming of independence, looking out the window, into the now defaced school.
Lavalli was forced to attend school when she was six years old and stayed there from 1957 to 1967.
Speaking at Canada’s first Truth and Reconciliation Day event, she said she had to agree to return to where the school once stood.
“The land is sacred to the indigenous people. I cannot say this land is sacred because I have experienced it here,” Lavallee said. “Scary things have happened to me here.”
He said the Catholic Church drilled ten commandments for students.
“You shouldn’t steal – and here they have stolen everything from us. Our spirits, our parents. They have stolen from us precious things,” Lavalli said.
In June, First Nation announced it had used ground-breaking radar to track 751 graves near the school site.
Chief Cadmus Delorme says the First Nation has identified nearly 300 unmarked graves.
Did not believe that all belonged to children. Catholic parishioners are thought to be buried there, as well as members of neighboring communities.
The First Nation worked with the Roman Catholic Church, the RCMP and the Canadian Historical Archives of Local and Northern Affairs to put the names on unmarked graves.
They also rely on people’s oral stories.
“It’s progress. It’s a solution. It’s valid,” Delorme said.
But the healing journey doesn’t stop there, he said.
“To know that there were windows once in our past, our family members were looking there and they couldn’t sing, dance or pray – we were just doing it.”
Lavallee said she was happy the residential school was gone and would spend her time helping other survivors.
He said he follows the seven native teachings of honor, humility, love, truth, honesty, wisdom and courage.
She’s not a survivor, Lavalli said, but a winner.
“Because they didn’t kill me enough. I still love. I still help. I still share.”
September 30, 2021
If you are a distressed former boarding school student or are affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Additional mental-health support and resources for local people are available here.