Renewed search set for site of former Shubenacadie residential school

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Children's shoes are shown on the steps of the church at the Sipekne'katik First Nation. (CBC - image credit)
Children's shoes are shown on the steps of the church at the Sipekne'katik First Nation. (CBC - image credit)

A renewed search on the grounds of the former residential school in Shubenacadie, N.S., will begin this weekend.

The search will be led by a Saint Mary's University archeologist and Mi'kmaw ethnologist and curator from the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History.

Many community members have called for a search after evidence of at least 215 bodies of children was discovered at the site of a residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Sipekne'katik First Nation announced the search at Shubenacadie would include the use of ground-penetrating radar, which was the method used in Kamloops.

A memorial is pictured Monday, honouring and acknowledging the 215 children whose remains have been found buried on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., on May 27, 2021.
A memorial is pictured Monday, honouring and acknowledging the 215 children whose remains have been found buried on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., on May 27, 2021.(Shaina Luck/CBC)

"The effect it's had on our people — we're still dealing with the trauma that our people went through, it's been passed down through generations," said Sipekne'katik Chief Mike Sack.

Sack added the community is looking forward to getting the search done.

"It was really nice to see that we were able to pull it together so quick, and actually have it starting right away," he said. "Every time I hear something like this it's always initial excitement but then it's a year or two before they start.

"To be starting tomorrow, I think, is amazing."

The Shubenacadie residential school operated between 1929 and 1967, affecting the lives of thousands of Indigenous children who were forced to attend the school from around the Maritimes..

A blend of 1938 aerial photos, left, with 2015 satellite imagery draped over 2019 remote sensing. This is a method used to investigate current day and past landscapes.
A blend of 1938 aerial photos, left, with 2015 satellite imagery draped over 2019 remote sensing. This is a method used to investigate current day and past landscapes.(Jonathan Fowler)

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation lists the names of 16 children who died while at the school. Community members have said they fear children were buried at the site.

The search will be led by archeologist Jonathan Fowler of Saint Mary's and Mi'kmaw cultural heritage curator Roger Lewis of the Nova Scotia Museum. Lewis is also a member of Sipekne'katik First Nation.

"We're going to begin broadly to survey the landscape, and as community members bring forward information that might lead us to specific areas, we will focus even more highly resolved energies to those areas," Fowler said.

The building was demolished in 1986 and a factory now stands on the site by the Shubenacadie River.

Last fall, Parks Canada designated the area as a national historic site.

Fowler said it is possible that the construction of the factory that sits where the school used to be could have caused some disturbance to the site. However, he said there was a series of other outbuildings behind the school.

"I expect most of that architectural material below the surface is still present," he said.

"We're going to be looking at that entire hilltop, quite a large area, actually.

"It's several hundred metres to a side. It's a big area. So that's just part of being thorough. And I think that it would also be of benefit perhaps in the future to the community."

The community is asking for any information that could help with the search. People with tips can email them to 4directions@sipeknekatik.ca.

On Monday, the Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative said some locations at Shubenacadie site have already been examined. It said no graves or human remains have been found so far, but the search continues.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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