By Cole Parkinson
Westwind Weekly News
It was a shock in 2021 when the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced the discovery of 751 unmarked graves found at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School. Just outside of Regina, the Cowessess First Nation made international headlines last year with the discovery, and ever since, the need for truth and reconciliation has been made more clear across Canada.
As part of this process, W.R. Myers High School invited Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme for a presentation. The chief explained the history of Indigenous and settlers wasn’t all bad. While the recent discovery highlighted some of the darkest aspects of Canadian history, Delorme also wanted to touch on the fact there were plenty of great interactions as well.
“The history is really good — it’s a really good history. Unfortunately, the last 100 years has been really bad with the Indian Act, residential schools, with the Sixties Scoop. But there was a beautiful history before that and sometimes, that is not captured enough in the history that we talk about.”
The discovery of the graves in 2021 led to many heartbreaks for Indigenous people across the country. And while the vast majority of residential schools closed before many of the students at W.R. Myers were born, Delorme explained it is something they have inherited.
“It was really tough, and I’m the chief where we did ours. I’m here not to make us feel bad or corner us, but we truly inherited this as proud Canadians, proud Albertans, and proud Saskatchewanians where I’m from,” he said. “The thing when you inherit something, you have a responsibility to do something about it. One of the things I have learned in the unmarked graves history is two things — for Indigenous people it is validation. Validation on the pain, frustration, anger, and tiredness of trying to remain Indigenous in a country that is still somewhat oppressing Indigenous people. To my Canadian friends and family, that shield is down. And admitting you don’t know much about the truth between Indigenous people in Canada, and that is truly where this country is at today. We all can reset our compass a little bit so we can set this relationship for the next 50 to 100 years. That is really important.”
While Indigenous history is taught in school, Delorme encouraged students to do more than just the bare minimum and try to understand what they have gone through over the last 100 years.
“One of the things Indigenous people, and why it hurts so much, why we aren’t taught enough in studies, sometimes you just learn the surface, get your credits, and you are off to the next class. The thing is, it’s more than just credits today,” he said.
Looking back 100 years ago, the vertical lineage and teachings passed on by generations were rock solid for Indigenous families, but that changed.
“This is what happened to Indigenous people — I’ll use my maternal lineage. My great grandmother, her English name was Gracie. She was born in 1870 — Gracie got her vertical lineage teachings from her mom and her grandma. Gracie had Maggie, my great grandmother. Maggie attended the Round Lake Residential School. Maggie should have gotten Gracie’s teachings as this country promised, but Maggie didn’t. Maggie went into horizontal survival mode. Maggie, with her sisters and cousins, had to fight the physical, sexual, and mental abuse — it was real. Maggie had my grandma Evelyn, the second generation in my maternal side. Evelyn should have got Maggie and Gracie’s vertical lineage teachings, but didn’t. Evelyn was a second-generation survivor of residential schools. Evelyn went into horizontal survival mode with her sister and cousins. Evelyn had my mom Charlotte. Charlotte was the third generation in my maternal side, Charlotte should have gotten Evelyn, Maggie, and Gracie’s teachings, but she didn’t — Charlotte went into horizontal survival mode. Charlotte had me and I never attended a residential school. My mother was not taught by her mother or grandma, or great-grandma on how to be a parent because she was surviving. My mom had to figure out how to be a parent all over again while dealing with horizontal survival mode that she endured.”
The challenge of repairing vertical lineage is still ongoing for many First Nation communities across Canada. While some are strong again, others are still in the beginning stages of repair and it may take some time to recover.
“Now today, I have Kinglsey and I have a daughter named Callie, who is five. They and my mom and really close. My vertical lineage has gotten strong again. In this country, there are over a million people who are descendants of survivors of residential schools. Some have a vertical lineage that is strong again, and I praise and thank them because I want to learn more. Some are at a 45-degree angle — they are getting stronger. Some are still in horizontal survival mode. Just became there are no more residential schools, it doesn’t mean things are just fixed like that. As a country and as a province, we have to understand we weren’t taught the truth,” Delorme continued. “What we have to understand is what this country, province, and you, our future leaders, have to understand the role you play moving forward. One of the things about truth is, why did this country not teach us correctly until now? You are getting taught, I believe correctly, from what I understand. I thank this school for doing that.”
While the history of Indigenous people in Canada is being taught in schools today, that wasn’t always the case.
“The baby boomer generation, when they were in junior high school, what they learned about Indigenous people, they didn’t learn anything in school about Indigenous people. Residential schools were at an all-time worst, Indigenous people were unable to leave the reserve yet. The only thing baby boomers learned about the history is through Hollywood movies. Indigenous people with paint on their face, riding horses, buckskin, making warrior noises. I’m not blaming our grandparents and great grandparents,” stated Delorme. “Some of Generation X is our parents or grandparents. Generation X are the biggest decision-makers in our country and province today. What did Generation X learn about Indigenous people in our country? Generation X learned something in 1969 called the White Paper was the solution. In 1969, there was a plan called the White Paper telling Indigenous people ‘why do you think you’re special? Give up your Aboriginal rights, just be Canadian, get off the reserves and quit trying to act special in this country. You don’t have rights.’ That’s what the White Paper said. If anyone thinks that is the solution, you are wasting energy and time. That is what Generation X learned was the solution.”
Over the past few generations, the school system began catching up and showing the truth.
“Generation Y was starting to be taught a little bit more. Generation Y learned about treaties, but somehow it was about land surrender, residential schools and the Indian Act were a part of it and stuff like that. Far from the truth,” added Delorme. “(Millennials) got taught a lot about the truth. Today, you will be taught about the truth as well, but sometimes when you go home to your kitchen table and talk about unmarked graves or Indigenous people, we have to understand the education system in this country for the last 90 years is now bring out the truth. That’s why we all have to understand a little more about the truth.”
With all of that in mind, Delorme also explained how everyone can start the process of truth and reconciliation. While it’s going to take some time to fully realize this, there are things people can start doing every day that will help Canada and Indigenous people reach the end goal.
“There are 94 calls to action, they aren’t recommendations. The authors of this are survivors of residential schools. They had to tell their story and the terrible things that were going on, but one of the questions they were asked was, what can Canada do to make sure this never happens again? That is where the calls to action come from. Right now, everyone in this room is doing number 57. It’s called professional development and expanding your mind to the truth. That’s a really good thing, so thank you for that. I am honoured to come and share with you,” explained Delorme. “How do we get it to the end goal? How do we know when we complete it? That’s reconciliation, but in order to get to reconciliation, you need to know the truth of what happened and the state this country is in.”
Delorme painted a picture for everyone in attendance around what truth and reconciliation looks like and how both sides can contribute to ensuring it is met.
“I’m talking about the relationship between Indigenous people and Canada. This is what reconciliation is — picture in your mind two canoes going down the river. One canoe is Canada/Alberta/the Crown, the other canoe is Kainai or Cowessess or Siksika. This is what was supposed to happen — at the agreement of treaty, because we are all based on treaty here,” he said. “We took this journey of two canoes and every generation in our canoes, we were supposed to exchange a child in the other canoe to know the ideology of that canoe and then give them back when they are young adults so every generation would know each other’s ideology of this land. That didn’t happen. What happened was, two years after Treaty 4, one year before Treaty 7, the Indian Act was thrown into the Indigenous canoe. The Indian Act had one purpose — to imprison the minds of Indigenous people. Our laws no longer existed, our way of picking our leader no longer existed, women played a lesser role and men dominated, and that paternalistic attitude began. The Indigenous canoe fell behind. Twenty-two years later, the residential school was thrown in the Indigenous canoe and the residential school had one purpose — to brainwash the Indigenous people to not know our language, to not know the vertical lineage, to submit to the queen, and only praying to the church that Canada told us to. The canoe fell behind even more.”
With one canoe far behind the other, Delorme highlighted the crucial fact both need to reach equal footing. And while there is a need for both sides to line up alongside one another, it doesn’t mean it falls on one side more than the other.
“The Indigenous canoe and Canada canoe have to align — that is reconciliation. Indigenous people are not asking Canada to slow down the canoe, Indigenous people are not trying to go down another river — all Indigenous people want is for the canoe to catch up so we can be like how our ancestors were, but adapt to Canada as well. That is why it is really important we become, and it’s on both sides, it’s Indigenous people too, I’m not painting it like my people are perfect. We all have to throw out our ignorance and try to understand the truth. If we don’t do anything about it today, if we just remain to status quo, we are pretty much telling the next generation ‘you figure it out.’ I don’t want to do that,” added Delorme.
Despite the talk of an end date, it will still be hard to realize when it’s be fully achieved, but taking it one day and recognizing truth and reconciliation is a great first step for everyone. Delorme touched on the fact he wants his children to grow up in Canada that sees equality for Indigenous people.
“Every one of us is at a different healing journey and it’s everybody’s responsibility. How do we know when we get to reconciliation? Last summer, Callie, Kingsley, and myself were playing outside in Cowessess. There was a plane in the sky, we live an hour and 20 minutes east of Regina and four hours west of Winnipeg so planes are pretty high when they pass over Cowessess. Callie was like ‘dad, what’s that?’ I said that’s a plane and of course, when you have a five-year-old, they ask why six times. I tried my best to explain what a plane was. I said it was like a bus that flies in the sky,” he continued. “She said ‘can I drive that bus?’ So I said ‘you want to be a pilot, my girl? You go be a pilot then.’ The next day I was driving to work and I was thinking ‘my girl wants to be a pilot’ and then I started to think about where we are right now in this country. Did you know the toughest person to be in this country is an Indigenous female? You don’t have to go far to research it — just read the missing and murdered Indigenous girls calls to justice. That’s the toughest person to be in this country. To succeed as an Indigenous female in this country, they have to try twice as hard and reap half the benefits. My daughter should be able to be a pilot like your little sister or your little nieces. That is Canada and that is why everyone in Taber and in Alberta and Canada takes truth and reconciliation. Don’t just do it on September 30 or June 21, don’t just do it because there is Native studies, don’t just do it because you have three or four Indigenous friends, do it for the fact that this country truly inherited this and we all have a responsibility to do it better because Indigenous didn’t choose to be in the state we are in today and we are going to get better.”