Indigenous leader, Saskatchewan want federal action on residential school deaths

·3 min read

REGINA — The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and the Saskatchewan government say they want Ottawa to help research undocumented deaths and burials at residential schools in the province.

Federation Chief Bobby Cameron says finding the children's remains and giving them proper burials is important to help First Nations communities and families find closure.

"There are thousands of families across this country and in our Treaty territories that have been waiting for their children to come home," Cameron said Monday in a news release.

"These children deserve the respect and dignity of proper burials and we must follow protocol and work with our Elders to ensure that their souls are at peace."

The federation has compiled a list of initial sites where it hopes to complete radar ground searches.

Similar technology uncovered the remains of 215 children on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

"Right now, one of the most immediate steps is for us … to identify if we do have any similar situations in Saskatchewan," said Premier Scott Moe. "Do we have any unmarked remains that are at some of our former residential school sites here in Saskatchewan?"

The former residential school sites the federation wants surveyed include Onion Lake, Beauval, Guy Hill, Lebret, Sturgeon Landing and the Lestock-Touchwood area.

Moe said he hopes the federal government will take the initiative in the surveys, but noted his government is "here to assist in any way that we can."

"While the residential school system across Canada does deserve a national approach, Saskatchewan is prepared to move forward with this effort in collaboration with our Indigenous communities and with our Indigenous people, and most certainly we are going to do it whether the federal government moves forward or not," said Moe.

Alberta's Minister of Indigenous Affairs was emotional in the legislature as he recalled how some children stopped showing up at school near Pigeon Lake, where he grew up, because they were "sent somewhere else."

"These were the acts that strike directly at the heart of people and cause harm to the state," said Rick Wilson.

He urged his government to read the 94 Calls to Action written by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to truly "take action."

Wilson didn’t respond to questions about whether the provincial government would be calling for a search for unmarked graves, but later in the afternoon he announced in a news release that the government intends to fund research into the undocumented deaths and burials.

He said details of that funding will be announced in the coming days.

In Manitoba, NDP justice critic, Nahanni Fontaine, urged the provincial government to make a commitment to search for graves at 14 known residential schools.

“This is a critical moment in history that demands more than just words of solace — it demands action,” Nahanni said in a news release.

“The discovery of the graves of 215 children outside of a former residential school in Kamloops, is a painful reminder of the traumatic legacy of residential schools, a legacy that has been covered up by governments at every level.”

— By Julia Peterson in Saskatoon. With files from Fakiha Baig in Edmonton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2021.

The Canadian Press