The discovery of 169 probable graves at the site of a former residential school supports the horrifying testimonies survivors have been giving, according to the chief of a northern Alberta First Nation.
“Our little warriors have waited for us to find them. Now we will ensure they rest in peace,” said Sydney Halcrow of the Kapawe’no First Nation at an emotional news conference.
The chief stated that discovering one burial is excessive, and finding several is incomprehensible.
The probable graves were discovered at the historic Grouard Mission site, roughly 370 kilometers northwest of Edmonton, using ground-penetrating radar and a drone.
The finding, according to Kisha Supernant, project lead and head of the University of Alberta’s Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology, backs up what survivors and elders have been telling and signals the start of a lengthy search for answers.
“There’s much more to do … to bring the children home,” she said.
Searchers concentrated their efforts on a tiny plot of ground near the school, also known as St. Bernard’s Indian Residential School. The church, a former nuns’ house, and an ancient root cellar all yielded 54 probable burials.
Another 115 people were discovered in the local cemetery.
According to Supernant, the parish released burial records showing that children who died at the school were buried in unmarked graves. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation produced a missing children registry, which contained some of the names supplied by the church.
Supernant, who is Métis, claims that her relatives are included among those who died at the school.
“Each of these children was a beloved part of a family and no one has been held accountable for their deaths,” she said.
The Roman Catholic Church founded the residential school in 1894, and it lasted until 1961.
Survivors spoke before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about significant sexual and physical abuse, hard labor, and the spread of sickness at the institution, which had a substantial population of Métis students.
The commission has a record of 10 student fatalities at St. Bernard, which gathered tales from survivors and delivered a final report in 2015.
Survivor Frank Tomkins testified that a youngster who couldn’t control his bowels was once forced to consume some of his own excrement by personnel at the residential school.
Survivor Rita Evans, who spent four years at the school, told the panel that there was a lot of religious teaching and drudge labour, but little emphasis on classroom study.
“We were forever praying and not learning anything, and when I came out of Grade 6, my goodness, I didn’t know nothing, you know, except work, work,” Evans said.
The school was turning into an orphanage, according to an inspector who visited it ten years before it closed.
Residential schools were attended by an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis youngsters. At least 4,100 fatalities were reported by the commission.
The Kapawe’no First Nation intends to continue searching for two more youngsters who have never returned home.
Search sites will include a neighboring Anglican church and a location where Indian agents and the North West Mounted Police, a forerunner to the RCMP, had buildings, according to testimony from survivors.
Each time probable graves are discovered, Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey says it hurts.
“It’s as if this wound cannot heal,” he said. “It’s reopened over and over. When you think it will get better. it splits open again.”
However, he believes it is critical for the rest of the world to understand that these institutions were not schools.
He went on to say that healing will not happen without answers.
“Truth must come before reconciliation can begin. I hope the children we have found can now rest knowing we have found them.”
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program operates a helpline to assist residential school survivors and their families who are experiencing trauma as a result of memories of previous abuse. 1-866-925-4419 is the phone number.