A ground penetrating radar found 54 unmarked remains of children. In this case, it was in Keeseekoose of Saskatchewan among indigenous people. There were two schools in operation in the area. One was the Fort Pelly School that opened in 1895 and closed down after 18 years. The other was St. Philip’s school that was open from 1928 to 1969. The devastating news was announced at the local school gym.
The children were found
At the sites of two former schools about 285 kilometers northeast of Regina. A parent’s worst nightmare come true.
The announcement came after a flag song, an honor song and a pipe ceremony. Among the sadness was the need for the truth and the chance to heal.
Stories of the children
Chief Lee Kitchemonia has lived here all his life and remembered the stories.
“That’s what it really boils down to is seeing your kid leave your house in the morning time (and) not realizing that you’ll never, ever see your child again for as long as you live (and) not knowing any answers to where those children have gone. All you know is that they’re gone to school and they’ve never returned. I can’t imagine what those parents and grandparents would have felt like. All I know is that it must have been a hurt that nobody could ever imagine.”
People go by this daily, never knowing what happened. Would it be the end of finding graves? And why were they hidden? “It’s going to be a very tough time for our community, knowing that we had unmarked graves in our community (and) in our common areas that we drive every day (or) that we walk every day. We passed by them, never realizing that there were graves,” Kitchemonia continued.
Crimes against children
These children might have been murdered. Who would do this? Individuals would need to be held accountable. “We don’t know any of these answers, so we need to fight for these records to see what happened to see who these graves belong to; they could be our aunts or uncles or grandfathers, things like that. They’re vanished off the face of this earth, never to be seen again,” Kitchemonia explained.
Ted Quewezance is a project manager, a former leader in the community and a fellow survivor. He worked with those who knew of this. Maps revealed 42 hits found at the Fort Pelly school and 12 at the St. Philip’s site.
Children went missing
Quewezance spoke, “The ground-penetrating radar simply validated our oral history. The historical record of Keeseekoose, the oral tradition, includes what survivors directly experienced, what survivors saw, what survivors heard … These stories have been part of our truth-telling for the last 125 years. We all knew that we would find gravesites.”
People didn’t believe others could do such awful things to another human being. Quewezance continued, “It was not that they could not hear but they did not believe our survivors. Many Canadians still cannot believe that a human being could treat another human being, especially a child, like the way we were treated.” There was pain in his voice as he spoke. “I can tell you first-hand that these things happened, to myself and every member of my family, and many families in our communities. If anything is going to carry us as we move forward, it’s going to be truth-telling and conciliation — not reconciliation, but conciliation.”
These children are a part of history
A number of people spoke at this gathering both in person and online. Chiefs of the FSIN and AFN, the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, the lieutenant governor, elders and survivors. A member of the RCMP was there but didn’t speak.
Mary Culbertson was the first woman treaty commissioner in Saskatchewan. She spoke of the stories she heard. The kids knew where they could play and what was out of bounds. It wasn’t smart to look outside at night.
The children will be recognized
Archbishop Donald J. Bolen of the Regina Archdiocese apologized for any role the church played in this. Quewezance said research is ongoing to find out who the graves belonged to and a virtual museum will be created. These graves will now be maintained.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation said there was enough problems at St. Philip’s school so a supervisor had been dismissed. The Centre has record of two deaths at each location. Studies have been conducted since a similar situation happened in Kamloops, 215 unmarked graves were found in that area.