'Made us believe we didn't have souls': Elder talks about time at Sask. residential school where graves were found
SASKATOON -- At the start of a virtual news conference joined by media outlets from around the world, elder Florence Sparvier began with a prayer.
When she finished, Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme revealed that as of Wednesday, through the use of ground radar, 751 unmarked graves had been discovered at the site of a former residential school located in the community.
The revelation comes nearly a month after the unmarked graves of 215 children were found at a former residential school in Kamloops.
When Delorme finished his remarks, the focus returned to Sparvier, who attended the Marieval Indian Residential School, not to offer prayer, but to share her story.
"If the parents didn't want to allow their children to go to boarding school, one of them had to go to jail. So in order to keep the family together. We went to boarding school. They brought us there we stayed there," Sparvier said.
"They told us our people, our parents, our grandparents … didn't have a way to be spiritual, because we were all heathens."
The school operated for nearly a century in the community before closing its doors in the late nineties.
"They made us think different. They made us feel different. A lot of pain we see in our people comes from there," Sparvier told reporters.
"They made us believe we didn't have souls," she said.
The elder spoke about the harsh treatment children were subjected to at the school.
"They pounded it into us and really they were very mean when I say pounding, I mean pounding. Those nuns were very mean to us. I don't know, I don't think they liked it being there either."
On another day which likely has stirred up difficult emotions for those with connections to Canada's residential schools, Sparvier closed out her remarks with an offer to help.
"But if you need an elder, you know, people want to come, they can come. I have a lodge, my husband had built me a little (sweat) lodge so that's where I see people," Sparvier said.
"I don't tell anyone who was there, but I'm busy."
If you are a residential school survivor in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Regina/Treaty Status Indian Services is also openoing a crisis line Wednesday afternoon that can be reached by dialing 306-522-7494
Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.