According to Chief Ouray Crowfoot, work has already begun looking for unmarked graves on Siksika land, relating to former residential and agency schools.
Crowfoot said the work that’s being done is a very sacred process which he wants to ensure is done properly, so as to honor the victims of the facilities.
“Those kids gave their lives … we’re not looking for hashtags or any ‘we found this many’ … we had about eight schools, there were two residential schools, and the rest were what they called agency schools,” he said. “It’s going to be a huge undertaking. The process has already begun, but we’re not going to be [announcing body counts] … we’re not going to.”
He added when and if the Office of the Chief and Council Government of Siksika Nation decide to release any information, it will be at their own pace, and when it is deemed appropriate.
“This is a sacred process, and we’re trying to give those kids respect and the proper protocols need to be done,” he said.
Crowfoot said he expects scans, excavations, research and other associated work to continue over a long term due to the scale of the project and amount of land that will have to be looked at.
“It’s not going to be like some of these other nations that are smaller … we’re talking months, possibly even a year or more, the work that we have before us at Siksika,” said Crowfoot. “We’ve got such a large land base, we have a lot more land to cover … [it’s] a lot more needles in the haystack.”
He also noted specifically he did not wish to imply that other nations were not undertaking similar work that Siksika is beginning to administrate, nor did he mean to belittle or deride the work or announcements from other nations.
In an open letter dated May 30, Chief and Council of Siksika Nation called on the federal government with individual First Nations to launch individual investigations into all 139 Indian residential schools noted across Canada.
Though he did not specify what was noted, Crowfoot said the federal government had responded to the open letter, and are working with Siksika Nation for their process.
Crowfoot added Siksika Nation intends to make full use of the provincially available grant previously announced by Premier Jason Kenney on June 23.
The $8 million program allows for grants of up to $150,000 to be issued to aid in the work to discover unmarked graves, and honor the victims of residential schools.
“We’re going to take advantage of all resources that are available. At the same time, we’re meeting to flesh out a comprehensive work plan,” said Crowfoot.
John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times