Cowessess First Nation says it has identified 300 of 751 unmarked graves

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Carol Lovely spent Thursday afternoon at the site of the former Maryval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, with members of the Cowkes First Nation singing, dancing and praying.

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More than 60 years ago, she would have been inside a now-demolished school, looking out the window and dreaming of freedom.

Lovely was forced to attend school when she was six years old and lived there from 1957 to 1967.

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Speaking at a ceremony to mark Canada’s first Truth and Reconciliation Day, he said he would have to agree to return to the place where the school once stood.

“The land is sacred to the indigenous people. I could not say that this land was sacred because I suffered here,” said Lovelli. “Horrible things happened to me here.”

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She said that the Catholic Church drilled the Ten Commandments into students.

“Thou shalt not steal – and here they stole everything from us. Our souls, our parents. Everything that was precious to us, they stole from us,” said Lovelli.

In June, First Nation announced that it had used ground-penetrating radar to search 751 graves near the school site.

Chief Cadmus Delorme said the First Nation had since identified about 300 unmarked graves.

Not all were considered children. Parisians of the Catholic Church are believed to have been buried there, as well as members of neighboring communities.

The First Nation worked with the Roman Catholic Church, the RCMP and the Canadian Historical Record of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to name the unmarked graves.

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They also relied on the oral stories of the people.

“It’s progress. It’s relief. It’s valid,” Delorme said.

But the healing journey doesn’t stop here, he said.

“To know that we once had windows behind us where members of our family looked out and shouldn’t be able to sing, dance or pray — we’re doing that.”

Lovely said she is glad the residential school is gone and spends her time helping other survivors.

She said that she follows the seven indigenous teachings of respect, humility, love, truthfulness, honesty, wisdom and courage.

He is not a survivor, Lovely said, but a winner.

“Because they didn’t kill enough in me. I still love. I still help. I still share.”

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