With the news on Thursday of 751 unmarked graves discovered near a former residential school in Saskatchewan, Indigenous leaders in Manitoba gathered to discuss the ongoing impact of the residential school system and what will now be done in Manitoba to begin the search for more unmarked graves.
Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) Grand Chief Jerry Daniels and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee reflected on the news out of Saskatchewan during a virtual event Thursday morning.
During Thursday’s discussion, Daniels and Settee were asked what will now happen here in Manitoba to begin the search for unmarked graves, and Daniels said they are now in the early stages of creating a plan.
He added that any plan will have to include Indigenous people and communities.
“Right now there are a variety of different efforts being done at the local and provincial levels to identify the pieces we will be moving in that direction,” Daniels said.
“The foundation of that is we need to be working with the families who know that children are there. That’s the most highlighted part of any research around our deceased relatives, so I think that is the first-and-foremost most important thing right now.”
On Monday the Manitoba government announced they will contribute $2.5 million to begin the work of “supporting the identification, investigation, protection and commemoration of Indian Residential School burial sites across the province.”
Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, where the 751 graves were discovered, said that ground-penetrating radar was used to make the discovery.
The same technology was also used last month and resulted in the discovery of 215 Indigenous children buried on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops.
“We are looking at partnering with different groups that have the technology to do this sort of research,” Daniels said.
Both Daniels and Settee will also travel this summer to the site of many of the residential schools that once operated in Manitoba and Daniels said they will know more on how they will go forward with searches after making those visits.
Reaction also came in on Thursday from the Treaty One Nation organization, which represents Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation, Long Plain First Nation, Peguis First Nation, Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, Sagkeeng First Nation, Sandy Bay First Nation, and Swan Lake First Nation.
In a statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun, Treaty One Nation spokesperson Chief Dennis Meeches said the organization is focused on searching for unmarked graves near residential schools and said the grounds of every former residential school in Manitoba should be searched.
“With the recent announcement of funding being made available in Manitoba, we must carry out the difficult but necessary ground searches at all 14 Indian Residential Schools, including the former Assiniboia IRS, Fort Alexander IRS, Sandy Bay RS, Cross Lake and Norway House Cree Nations, and continued work at the Portage la Prairie IRS, and in Brandon,” Meeches said
“It is a painful exercise, but our children must be honoured and returned home to their families and communities in order for our Nations to begin healing.”
The Treaty One Nation also recently passed a unanimous resolution calling on Canada to recognize Indian Residential Schools as genocide as defined in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Article.
“We will continue to call on the government to acknowledge Indian Residential Schools as what it was – genocide – and to fund the searches and return of these children to their families and communities. Part of reconciliation is to admit the truth, and we will not stop until Canada shares the truth of Indian Residential Schools,” Meeches said.
An Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week in Canada for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience or the experience of someone they know. The crisis line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun