The former Muscowequan residential school in Lestock, Sask. has been designated a national historic site under the National Program of Historical Commemoration.
Call to Action 79 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for national commemoration of residential school sites and the history and legacy of residential schools.
Jonathon Wilkinson, minister responsible for Parks Canada, announced the designation on July 8.
"The designation of Muscowequan Indian Residential School as a national historic site will ensure all Canadians and the world learn the truth about the atrocities that occurred in these schools,” said Reginald Bellerose, chief of Muskowekwan First Nation.
“We have suffered too long from this sad chapter in Canadian history which has long lasting impacts in our communities. We can now speak our truth and have a building that will tell our story from our perspective.”
The residential school system was designed with the objectives of assimilating Indigenous youth into Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of living.
The schools would forcibly separate children from their families and forbade them to use their own languages or acknowledge their Indigenous heritage.
The former Muscowequan school is the last standing residential school in Saskatchewan. The building was constructed in 1930-31 and replaced earlier school buildings dating to the late 1800s.
The school operated until 1997, making it one of the last residential schools to close in Canada.
The site was saved from demolition by school survivors and community members who, the Government of Canada said, see it as an important site that bears witness to the history of residential schools, and hope to repurpose it into a place of commemoration, healing and cultural learning, and a site of memory for all Canadians.
This former residential school was nominated for designation by Muskowekwan First Nation, who worked with Parks Canada as part of a collaborative process.
The Muskowekwan First Nation recognizes 35 unmarked graves at the residential school site, although community accounts set that number as larger.
In 1992, construction workers accidentally disturbed rows of unmarked graves near the school. Albert Pinachie, board of education trustee and residential school survivor, spoke during National Indigenous Peoples Day at the Horizon School Division head office on June 21. In his account, he said there were 337 bodies.
Work is currently underway to find the bodies of students who died at the site.
National historic designations are the result of nominations to the National Program of Historical Commemoration, commemorating both positive and negative parts of Canadian history.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action can be read at http://trc.ca/assets/pdf/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf.
Jessica R. Durling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Humboldt Journal