Nearly 200 anomalies have been discovered in the ground near a former residential school site in Manitoba, and with that news, the Sagkeeng First Nation must now figure out what the next steps will be, to learn the truth about what might be buried under the ground.
Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Derrick Henderson announced that 190 anomalies have been discovered in the ground on the Sagkeeng First Nation, an Anishinaabe community about 120 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg that borders the town of Powerview-Pine Falls.
The announcement of those discoveries comes less than one year after Toronto-based company AltoMaxx, began the work of searching for unmarked graves in the area near the former Fort Alexander Residential School, which ran for decades in Sagkeeng but was torn down after closing its doors.
Henderson said that by using both drone and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) technology, the company has now discovered the 190 anomalies, which he said are all within a close proximity of the former school and all in areas where there should not be any changes or movement underground.
“They can show us a map of what they discover, and when you see consecutive anomalies like that, then there must be something that has happened there in the ground, because it’s not infrastructure or sewer pipes or waterlines so something has happened there.”
Henderson said 137 anomalies were discovered at the community’s arena grounds, and another 53 were found at a site adjacent to the arena grounds. He said both sites are less than a kilometre from the former residential school grounds.
Sagkeeng first began the searches last July, following announcements that what is believed to be unmarked grave sites had been discovered near former residential schools in Kamloops, and on the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.
Henderson said although he can’t say for sure what the anomalies are, he believes there is a good chance they are unmarked graves, and possibly graves of children who would have attended the Fort Alexander Residential School.
He said he and others in the community now have to figure out what their next steps will be, as they look to identify the reasons for the anomalies.
“We have to start digging to see what’s there, but right now we have to figure out where to start,” he said. “I’ve been told if we use machines we will compromise what we are trying to do, so we need to figure that out, and I need to figure out if it’s archeologists we need to bring in, or where we go from here.
“But something has happened here, so we need to work on those next steps to figure this out.”
Henderson said community leaders must now also be there for the community members who the news of these discoveries may now trigger.
“I mean you are really opening old wounds again when you do something like this, especially for those who attended residential schools, and for their families,” he said.
“It is going to re-traumatize, and it’s going to trigger residential school survivors and many community members.”
Henderson said that the community will continue to give updates on what their next steps will be, and added that AltoMaxx is still doing searches in the community, which could possibly lead to further discoveries.
— 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