Earlier this week, the Star Blanket Cree Nation in Saskatchewan began a search for unmarked graves around the former Qu’Appelle Industrial Residential School.
The search comes months after the country was rocked by news of British Columbia in the spring when Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced that 215 unmarked graves had been found at Kamloops Residential School. before.
Although that number was later revised to 200, hundreds of unmarked graves have been identified around the country in the months since, with dozens of additional searches being planned. or currently continuing.
About 150,000 children from First Nations, Métis and Inuit were separated from their families and forced to attend boarding schools between the late 1800s and 1996s, with the goal of replacing indigenous languages and cultures with English and Christianity.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which released its final report on the boarding school system in 2015, said that at least one in 50 students died, with 4,100 officially dying. although the number is thought to be much higher.
To date, more than 1,800 unmarked or suspected graves have been identified.
Here are the locations where previously unmarked grave searches have taken place, most of which have resulted in discoveries:
Sacred Heart (Northwest Territory)
A memorial currently exists to recognize the approximately 300 people – 161 of whom were Indigenous children – buried near the former Sacred Heart School in Fort Providence, NWT
The first boarding school in the North, a Catholic-run institution, opened in 1867 and operated from 1906 to 1960, the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg for know. For most of its history, between 65 and 75 students attended the school, although enrollment was around 100 in the 1950s.
Ground-penetrating radar was used in the 1990s to locate cemeteries. Similar technology was used in Kamloops and has since been adopted by other communities when conducting searches for unmarked graves.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission notes that a community member named Albert Lafferty began researching the cemetery in 1992 and concluded that one, located near the school, was in use until 1929 when it was abandoned to make potato fields.
Cranbrook (British Columbia)
In June, the Lower Kootenay Band released a statement saying the remains of 182 people had been discovered in unmarked graves near the former Saint Eugene Mission School near Cranbrook, BC.
The statement said the Aq’am community conducted a search in 2020 and used ground-penetrating radar to find remains near the old school. About 100 band members attended the school.
The Catholic-run Kootenay or the residential school of St. Eugene opened in 1890 just north of Cranbrook, BC, before being replaced by an industrial school in 1912. Along with reports of poor attendance and runaways, the school was plagued by recurrent outbreaks of influenza, mumps, measles, chickenpox and tuberculosis. The federal government took over in 1969 and closed the following year in 1970.
As reported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the school has been converted into a hotel resort and cultural center, with a school cemetery visible next to the paths of a golf course.
Kamloops (British Columbia)
In May, Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced that 215 unmarked graves – later revised to 200 – had been found at the former Kamloops Residential School.
It is the largest of the Indian affairs boarding school system, with enrollment peaking at 500 in the early 1950s.
The school opened under Catholic administration in 1890 and was partially destroyed in a fire in 1924.
The federal government took over in 1969 and operated it as a residence for students attending local schools until 1978. The facility was later converted into a cultural center.
Kuper Island (British Columbia)
In July, more than 160 “undocumented and unmarked” graves were confirmed on Penelakut Island, formerly Kuper Island, a statement from Penelakut Chief Joan Brown at the time said. .
The Catholic-run Kuper Island School near Chemainus on Vancouver Island opened in 1889 and operated from 1890 to 1975.
The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation reported that students set fire to the school in 1895 when the holidays were cancelled. A survey that year also found that 107 out of 264 students had died.
In 1959, two sisters drowned while trying to escape and another died by suicide in 1966. The federal government took over the school in 1969 and closed it in 1975.
Two decades later, a former employee pleaded guilty in 1995 to three counts of indecent assault and vulgarity.
St. Joseph’s (Alberta)
So far, 34 children found buried near the former Dunbow Industrial School, south of Calgary, have been named, with dozens of other bodies still missing.
Also known as St. Joseph’s, Dunbow Catholic Industrial School was one of the first three industrial schools established by the Canadian government and churches.
The school was built in 1884, northeast of the Okotoks, where the Highwood River empties into the Bow River. The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation records that in 1918, the then-principal and three students died of the flu. The school closed in 1922, with enrollment at that time only 26 students.
In 2001, water erosion on the banks of the Bow-Highwood River exposed the remains of former students, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports.
Thirty-four bodies were exhumed and reburied a few hundred meters from the river. Today, a stone monument and stone cairn memorialize the site.
The Battleford School in Saskatchewan was Canada’s first industrial residential school.
The Anglican-run school opened in 1883 but closed in 1885 during the Northwest Resistance and was at times occupied by the army.
An inspection carried out in 1890 revealed that the school had no fire protection and poor sanitation. The school closed in 1914 after a period of low productivity and a shortage of qualified teachers.
After the closure, a principal informed the federal India department that a school cemetery contained the bodies of 70 to 80 people, most of them former students.
In the summer of 1974, archeology students and staff from the University of Saskatchewan excavated 72 tombs at the school. A cairn was erected at the school cemetery in 1975.
In June, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced it had found an estimated 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School – marking the largest discovery to date of unmarked graves. stamped at old residential school sites.
First Nation began sweeping the school grounds and surrounding area that month.
The discovery is not considered a mass grave, but unmarked graves where the steles were removed. There is also an error of 10 to 15% with ground-penetrating radar and it is impossible to confirm that all the graves belong to children. As of September, names have been given to approximately 300 individuals.
Built in 1899 by Catholic missionaries in the Qu’Appelle Valley, the school was funded by the federal government beginning in 1901 before taking over in 1969. It was later transferred to Cowessess first. when it closed in 1997.
It was demolished and replaced with a day school, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report said.
The Archdiocese of Regina awarded Cowessess First Nation $70,000 in 2019 to help restore the grave site.
Don Bolen, the archbishop of Regina, has previously said that the unmarked graves were in part due to an argument between a priest at the school and a local First Nation chief in the 1960s. .
Earlier this summer, Muskowekwan’s First Nation ordered 35 pairs of moccasins and children’s shoes to honor the unmarked grave located at Muscowequan’s former residential school.
The last residential school in Saskatchewan to close, Muscowequan is located on Muskowekwan’s First Nation.
The Catholic Day School was expanded in 1886 to accept boarding students. Before the federal government took over in 1969, reports from the 1920s suggested the building was unfit and provided students with an inadequate diet.
The Muskowekwan Education Center managed the school from 1981 before closing in 1997.
During 2018 and 2019, First Nation worked with the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Alberta to use ground-penetrating radar to locate unmarked graves.
That, along with the construction of the waterline in the 1990s, identified at least 35 graves.
Regina Indian Industrial School (Saskatchewan)
Back in September, 38 orange markers were donated by Pasqua First Nation to the Regina Indian Industrial School Commemorative Association to identify the graves located in the old school cemetery.
Two searches conducted at the former industrial school found 32 in 2012 and another six in 2014.
The school opened in 1890 but closed in 1910 due to poor conditions and low enrollment.
An investigation by the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in Manitoba identified 104 potential graves at three cemeteries connected to the former Brandon residential school.
One of the cemeteries is located on a campsite near the Assiniboine River, which flows through Brandon. It is believed that 54 children who attended the nearby school, but now demolished, are buried there in unmarked graves.
Investigations into cemeteries and unmarked graves have been carried out since 2012.
Run by the Methodist, United and Catholic churches, the school operated from 1895 to 1972. It suffered from complaints about harsh discipline and poor food, with many students running away. From 1967 until its closure, the school operated as a residence for local students.
Shubenacadie (Nova Scotia)
In August, a team of researchers in Nova Scotia confirmed that they could not find any unmarked graves of students at the former Shubenacadie residential school north of Halifax.
Sipekne’katik First Nation said the investigation involved the use of ground-penetrating radar and airborne laser scanning. The search also included sweeping the surrounding farmland.
The only established boarding school in the Maritimes, the Catholic-run school operated from 1929 to 1967.
In the midst of that, the school became the subject of a federal investigation in 1934 into the beatings of 19 boys. A final judge said the boys got what they deserved.
If you are a residential school alum in distress, or have been impacted by the residential school system and need help, you may contact the 24-hour Boarding School Crisis Line: 1-866 -925-4419
Mental health support and additional Indigenous resources are available here.