Saturday, October 1, 2022

First Nation finds 54 potential unmarked graves at site of former Sask. residential schools

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A Saskatchewan First Nation has uncovered 54 possible unmarked graves on the premises of two former Catholic-run residential schools, adding to the national count of suspected school burials that has drawn international attention to Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples.

Ground-penetrating radar was employed by the Keeseekoose First Nation, which is located 235 kilometers northeast of Regina, to examine the grounds of St. Philip’s and Fort Pelly residential schools. Keeseekoose Chief Lee Kitchemonia said that it’s going to be a tough time for their community. Notably, St Phillip’s was operated by the Catholic Church on behalf of the federal government from 1905 to 1913, while Fort Pelly was run by the federal government from 1928 to 1969.

During a two-month study that covered three hectares of ground that school survivors had indicated as a potential burial location, Ted Quewezance, the project manager for the hunt, claimed the radar had produced 54 “hits” – 42 at Fort Pelly and 12 at St. Philip’s. Hits are unique radar reflections that frequently reveal columns of disturbed soil, indicating a burial. Ground-penetrating radar, in most circumstances, detects the shaft of dirt atop a burial rather than the contents of the grave. Before claiming last May that it had discovered the “remains of 215 children who were pupils of the Kamloops Residential School,” the First Nation of Tk’emlps te Secwépemc in B.C.’s interior used the same search strategy.

“Saskatchewan mourns with you,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said on Facebook, as the Keeseekoose First Nation faces “the same shock and grief as other First Nations around the country.” From the late 1800s through the 1990s, about 150,000 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students were compelled to attend these schools. The purpose of these institutions was to forcefully integrate the country’s indigenous population. Many children were physically and sexually assaulted by headmasters and professors who robbed them of their culture and language while they were separated from their families for months or years.

A truth-and-reconciliation panel reported more than 4,000 fatalities at schools in 2015, the most of which were caused by starvation, sickness, or suicide. The killings were described as “cultural genocide” in the report. Since May 2021, more than 1,300 burials have been uncovered.

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