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Saskatchewan First Nation remembering lives lost at residential schools

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WATCH: Muskowekwan First Nation in Saskatchewan is holding prayers and a ceremony Tuesday to remember missing and disappeared children from the residential schools – Jun 1, 2021

A Saskatchewan First Nation understands the pain and emotion a B.C. First Nation is dealing with after the discovery of 215 children at unmarked burial sites at a former residential school.

Ground-penetrating radar uncovered the remains of the children, who were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Some were as young as three years old.

Read more: Grief, sorrow after discovery of 215 bodies, unmarked graves at former B.C. residential school site

“We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children,” Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir, Tk’emlups chief, said last Friday.

Muskowekwan First Nation has dealt with similar findings twice at the site of the Muscowequan Indian Residential School on its reserve near Lestock, Sask.

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A number of unmarked burial sites were discovered in 1992 in unmarked graves on the school grounds during the construction of a water line.

Work was immediately stopped and the Muskowekwan First Nation and surrounding First Nation communities gave the children a proper burial.

Click to play video: 'Residential schools memorial in Regina' Residential schools memorial in Regina
Residential schools memorial in Regina – Jun 2, 2021

Teams from the universities of Saskatchewan and Alberta used ground-penetrating radar to assist Muskowekwan First Nation to find more unmarked graves in 2019.

“With this work, and the discovery in the early 1990s of graves during a water line construction, we have determined at least 35 unmarked graves exist,” Muskowekwan First Nation said in a statement.

“With further research on the grounds, we sense more will be found.”

Read more: Saskatchewan residential school survivor reflects on tragic legacy

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Muskowekwan First Nation is holding prayers and a ceremony Tuesday to remember missing and disappeared children from the residential schools.

Thirty-five children’s moccasins and shoes will be placed to honour those children at the Muskowekwan and Kamloops residential schools.

“We ask all Canadians to join with Indigenous people across the nation as we remember the estimated six thousand missing children whose graves surround the 139 former residential school sites across Canada,” Muskowekwan First Nation said in a statement.

“Their memories must never be forgotten.”

The Muskowekwan First Nation is the location of the last-standing former residential school in Saskatchewan.

It operated from 1886 until closing in 1997.

The residential school remains standing and Muskowekwan First Nation has rejected offers from the federal government to demolish the building.

The First Nation hopes to convert it into a museum, archive and place for healing.

“While the residential school itself has been closed for decades, the long-term legacy of trauma remains embedded in the lives of First Nations peoples in the area and those whom attended this residential school.

“The centre will focus on healing families of the intergenerational trauma through a culturally-responsive approach focused on mental, spiritual, emotional and physical well-being.”

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Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access this 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.

— with files from Doyle Potenteau 

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