Delmas project will need intensive record search

Karen Whitecalf, the project lead for the ongoing search of marked and unmarked graves at residential schools, said they would be looking for more records of all Indigenous children who attended the facility in Delmas.

They have obtained a list that contains more than 600 names of children who attended the former Thunderchild/St. Henri Indian Residential School and Whitecalf said, based on accounts made by survivors and other witnesses, there were more children who attended the said facility. She said the list was provided by the National Truth and Reconciliation Centre.

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“We have over 600 students that were registered but we’re missing a few years. You know, that is just an inaccurate number, 600 plus students and there’s probably more. We are trying to locate those records and since this is so new, it’s hard to know where to start looking for those records. It’s going to take a while.”

Whitecalf added they might go to Ottawa to check with the federal government agencies that deal with the First Peoples of Canada such as the Department of Indigenous Services Canada, the former Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

“They have record and they have archives. I might make a journey to Ottawa to have a look at some records.

“The Indigenous affairs office in Ottawa, they also have records. As First Nations ... our births and deaths are recorded. It makes that they would have [records]. Because it was government-run school, I’m sure they would have records in Ottawa somewhere.”

Whitecalf said they are looking at six sites where possible graves might be, but they will focus first on the residential school in Delmas.

“But for now, we’re just going to concentrate on the Delmas area. But in August, we’re also going to start to look at the Battlefords Industrial School where they have several unmarked graves as well. The first phase is over here [Delmas]. There’s another two, I believe, down by the river.”

The site of the former residential school is now a field near Highway 16 and privately-owned by Doug Montgomery and Donna McBain. The school burned down, allegedly caused by several students, and was closed down in 1949 permanently.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron also expressed his support to the community in Delmas and all survivors.

“We, as an organization, will continue to support and stand beside our survivors. More importantly, the goal is the healing journey be a big positive part of this whole situation.”

Archbishop of Regina Donald Bolen said the goal of Catholic church leadership in Saskatchewan is to build and strengthen relationships with Indigenous Peoples.

“Conversations are already underway with survivors, elders, knowledge keepers, chiefs, and communities. These conversations are themselves important steps forward. Nothing is as helpful as charting forward as listening to the experiences of survivors, and hearing them directly from survivors and elders where we can be in assistance in addressing the needs of their communities.”

“This province has many wounds in its history, but this is the deepest, beginning with the First Peoples of this land their experience of colonization and the residential school system. Taking children out of their family context, depriving them of their language, culture, and spirituality, caused waves of suffering which continued to be felt today.”

This story has been corrected to indicate the list of 600 names was of attendees, not possible deaths.

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