Chris CleggSouth Peace News
The discovery of 169 potential graves at the St. Bernard Mission Indian Residential School site at Grouard, with assurances of more to follow, is “painful” but more work is required to discover the truth, says Kapawe’no Chief Sydney Halcrow.
The announcement was made in Edmonton during a Zoom meeting March 1 including Halcrow, Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey, and Dr. Kisha Supernault, chair of the Department of Indigenous and Prairie Archeology, University of Alberta, who headed the research.
The graves were found using ground-penetrating radar and a specialized drone at the site.
Of the 169 potential graves, 32 are described as “possible graves”, 129 as “probable graves”, and eight as “likely graves”.
“Finding one grave is too much,” said Halcrow, during the highly emotional announcement.
“Finding more is incomprehensible.”
Halcrow also alluded to the fact only one acre of land was analyzed at St. Bernard, which was opened by the Roman Catholic Church in 1894 and closed in 1961.
He called the additional research needed to “do whatever we have to do” to discover the truth.
“We need to find the answers for children who never made it home from St. Bernard Mission,” he said, adding only then can healing start.
Halcrow was pleased the findings validated stories told by the Elders.
“Our little warriors haver waited. . .may they rest in peace,” said Halcrow.
“There remains a lack of justice and accountability for what happened.”
“Our Elders always had the integrity to speak the truth,” added Noskey.
The next step in the search for truth is Phase 2, which includes searching sites at or near St. Peter’s Anglican Church, the police barracks, and Indian agents in the area.
“How can this happen when all these people are around?” asked Halcrow.
Supernault, herself a Metis, said Phase 1 focused on “high priority” areas. The one-acre area examined was divided into four areas, then 15 grids. Of the 169 potential graves identified based on anomalies, she said the study could not confirm or deny whether the sites were children or adults.
“I feel the pain of those who should have been my aunts and uncles,” said Supernault.
“. . .much more research needs to be done to bring the children home,” she added.
Noskey said the findings were another step toward healing for the 169 children who never made it home.
“[Residential schools] were institutions designed to kill the Indian child, eradicating us altogether,” said Noskey, adding the wounds were reopened.
“When we think it gets better, it reopens again.
“If we haven’t found them all, how can we heal?” asked Noskey.
“Imagine sending your child to school and never seeing them again. How would you cope? How would you feel?”
Noskey added the Grouard site was not “an isolated incident” with more sites needed to be examined.
“This is only part of two schools. There are two more to follow. There is so much work to be done yet. Other areas in Treaty 8 yet to be done.”
He did thank the churches for cooperation in the search.
Later, Chief Halcrow did allude to provincial and federal funding, but was quick to point out that Phase 1 research was paid 100 per cent by Kapawe’no First Nation. Provincial money was received about two weeks ago, with no federal money received yet.
“That’s the way they treat us,” said Halcrow.
He was confident, however, that future work could use Kapawe’no’s work as a blueprint.
However, he was insulted by government calling the work a project.
“It’s not a project, it’s a discovery of truth over what happened in that area. Because they [federal and provincial governments] gave us money does not mean they can censor our reports. The truth shall never be censored.”
Noskey feared many in society would undermine the findings.
“The rest of society will do their best to undermine the findings,” he said, adding 150,000 children attended residential schools in Canada “and many of them never made it home”.
The three were asked if the graves would be opened to examine the bodies.
“No, it’s not in our culture to exhume the bodies,” Noskey responded.
But he did not totally rule it out.
“If that’s what the public needs, maybe our Elders will consider it.”
The Truth and Reconciliation report, which documented stories from survivors and issued a final report in 2015, has a record of 10 student deaths at St. Bernard.
As alluded to by Noskey, an estimated 150,00 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children attended residential schools in Canada. The commission documented at least 4,100 deaths.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering from trauma caused by the recall of past abuse. The number is [1-800] 925-4419.
Premier Kenney responds to report
“The discovery of anomalies consistent with unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school near High Prairie reminds us of the likelihood that there are unmarked graves of Indigenous children and youth at such sites across the province,” wrote Kenney in a statement.
“These research findings can be traumatic for many Indian Residential school survivors and First Nations across the province,” he added.
Kenney recognized the injustices that occurred at the schools.
“The Indian residential school system was a wicked injustice that too often forcibly segregated children from their families and sought to suppress Indigenous culture and language. Recorded instances of violence and abuse are part of the tragic memory and legacy of the system.”
Kenney reminds everyone the Alberta government provided $8 million for research and commemoration of resident school sites.
“Last week’s Speech from the Throne also reiterates the Province’s commitment to erect a permanent memorial to residential school victims and survivors on the grounds of the Alberta Legislature,” he added.
“Kenney reminds everyone the Alberta government provided $8 million for research and commemoration of resident school sites.” I’ll bet, however, that Kenney DOESN’T want to remind everyone that Chris Champion, the person hired to oversee the proposed Social Studies curriculum for K-Gr. 4, has minimized the negative aspects of residential schools and has called the inclusion of First Nations perspectives in school lessons a “fad.”
Kenney is an expert at saying whatever he thinks will appeal to voters.