Former Shingwauk residential school in the Sault recognized as a national historic site

A photo of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre in Algoma University. (File)

The federal government announced Thursday the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie is being designated a national historic site under the National Program of Historical Commemoration.

"Residential schools were part of a shameful and racist colonial policy that removed Indigenous children from their communities and denied them their families, language and culture," said a news release announcing the decision.

"These institutions have had enduring negative impacts on First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities, cultures, economies, traditional knowledge and ways of life, languages, family structures, and connections to the land."

The announcement was made by Jonathan Wilkinson, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada.

The former residential school is located on Robinson-Huron Treaty Territory within the traditional homelands of Anishinaabe and Métis peoples. During its operation from 1875 to 1970, more than 1,000 Indigenous children from Ontario, Quebec, the Prairies, and the Northwest Territories attended.

"As we move forward in this important time, with this important story, the story of so many survivors and intergenerational survivors, and sadly, those who never made it home, we believe the national recognition of the Shingwauk site will help preserve that story, so it is never lost," Jay Jones, president of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association, said in the release.

"With the news of the Kamloops and Cowessess children revealing themselves to us, it is a reminder of the important work that we must do here on the Shingwauk site with our survivors and our site partners, so that this does not happen to another child again. Chi miigwetch/thank you for distinguishing such an important place for the Indigenous people of this land."

The Shingwauk site is one of the few surviving residential school sites where a number of preserved built and landscape elements continue to testify to the long history of the residential school system in Canada.

Among these, the Shingwauk Cemetery contains 109 known burials, including 72 students who died between 1875 and 1956."

Since the institution's closure, its site and main building (Shingwauk Hall) have been used for cultural reclamation, cross-cultural education and learning, and reinterpreted as a place for healing and reconciliation.

The former residential school property encompasses the present campus of Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig and Algoma University. The Shingwauk Education Trust, Anglican Church and the Algoma District School Board also have a shared responsibility for areas of the site.

Parks Canada worked in collaboration with the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre to tell the stories of survivors and determine the historic values of the site.

"The experiences of former students and survivors of the Shingwauk residential school and other residential schools across Canada continue to affect generations of First Nations, Inuit and Métis families and communities," the release said.

"These designations are an important part of the Government of Canada's response to Call to Action 79 of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."

National historic designations are the result of nominations to the National Program of Historical Commemoration. They commemorate all aspects of Canadian history, both positive and negative.

While some designations recall moments of greatness and triumph, others encourage reflection of the tragic, complex and challenging moments and experiences that define the Canada of today. In sharing these stories, Canadians have opportunities to learn about the full scope of our shared history, including the difficult periods that are part of our past and have shaped our present-day.

"Survivors and descendants of the survivors of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School are still experiencing the pain and consequences of attending the school," Terry Sheehan,

MP for Sault Ste. Marie, said in the release

"With the Shingwauk Indian Residential School being designated a national historic site, we are acting upon the TRC Call to Action 79 and continuing to work with Indigenous peoples to progress reconciliation in a meaningful way."