The Battlefords Agency Tribal Council Inc. (BATC) is searching another former residential school site, and they may have found more remains.
“We’ve identified five locations that we’ve mapped out now,” Neil Sasakamoose said. He’s the executive director of the BATC.
He said SNC-Lavalin crews are using ground-penetrating radar to search for the remains of Indigenous people at the site of the Thunderchild residential school near Delmas, Sask., north of the Battlefords. It was also known as the St. Henri residential school.
He said it’s a challenging site, because the area is completely unmarked and because remains may have been moved in the past. He said elders are directing the searches.
“We have some people that actually dug some of the graves for those people, that are still alive. And they’ve told us, ‘Right here is where I remember being,’” he said.
Sasakamoose didn’t specify what the locations detected at the site were, or how large they may be.
The announcement comes a few days after five Saskatchewan bishops put out a statement, saying they hope to announce a fundraising campaign in the future for school survivors.
Archbishop Donald Bolen, of the Archdiocese of Regina, told Global News that amount is separate from the $25 million the Catholic Church previously promised to survivors.
“This is an effort to try to rebuild relationships, to work together, to take some responsibility for the past and to open a path to working together in the future,” he said.
“The entire residential school legacy is very much in our view as we initiate this campaign,” he said, though he added that no amount of money can ease the pain that many survivors experience.
Bolen has apologized for the Church’s role in the past, and said he wants to offer his apologies “whenever I hear about suffering that peopled experienced at the hands of a project of assimilation.”
He explained the bishops want to stand in solidarity during the new searches and told Global News the campaign is so new that he couldn’t say much more about it.
He said the archdiocese staff, and the other bishops and their staff, need to have internal and group conversations to finalize details.
And he said the internal conversations will determine how this fundraising campaign will function alongside the other initiative already underway, to renovate a Regina cathedral.
Bolen said the bishops will release more details soon.
Sasakamoose said he was struggling with the concept of a church right now, and that he was suffering mixed emotions over what the ground radar has revealed.
“My dad went there,” he said, referring to the Delmas school.
After a long pause, he added, “Am I looking for an apology from the church? No.”
Sasakamoose said everyone is preparing — as best they can — for what the discoveries could yield.
He stated the BATC is hoping to announce the results on July 17 or 18.
Then, he said, they will start searching the site of another nearby residential school, the Battleford Industrial School, which is south of the Battlefords.
He told reporters he hopes to be able to announce any findings from that search by the end of August.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations First Vice-Chief Morley Watson says reconciliation needs to involve all Indigenous people, and all those responsible.
“I think the Queen has to be involved, I think the Pope has to be involved, and our First Nations leaders across Canada have to be involved,” he said.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
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