Sask. government, FSIN call on feds to conduct radar searches at residential schools

The Government of Saskatchewan is joining the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) call for the Government of Canada to immediately commence research on undocumented deaths and burials in residential schools in Saskatchewan, including radar ground search at residential school sites.

The call follows the discovery of the remains of 215 children, buried on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, on the Tk'emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in B.C.

About 20 federal residential schools operated in Saskatchewan from the 1880s to the 1990s according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“How many in Saskatchewan, are there, how many kids didn't have a proper burial in Saskatchewan?” said NDP MLA and residential school survivor Betty Nippi-Albright.

Nippi-Albright said as a kid growing up in a residential school she heard stories about children that were buried in unmarked graves and believes the research will confirm it.

“It's really hard because those things that we grew up hearing, and talking about are real,” said Nippi-Albright.

Nippi-Albright said she support the calls for research, but would also like to see the Sask Party put some money into the efforts.

“Often we here in Saskatchewan, we give lip service to reconciliation. And we echo words that have no action to it,” said Nippi-Albright.

Premier Scott Moe said if the Federal government doesn’t do the work, his government is willing to whatever is needed.

“This initiative that at this point in time is being led by Chief Bobby Cameron and the FSIN, that we are there to assist, to help, to support in any way that we can,” said Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan. “If we do have similar unmarked sites with individuals in them here in Saskatchewan, we want to work as quickly as we can to identify who may be in those sites, and to start to provide the first steps of closure for some families.”

According to a release, the FSIN suggests the initial sites for the search should include Muskowekwan Indian Residential School (IRS), Onion Lake St. Anthony's IRS, Beauval IRS, Guy Hill IRS, Lebret IRS and Sturgeon Landing IRS, along with additional sites in consultation with First Nations in Saskatchewan.

"Saskatchewan is supporting the call from the FSIN and FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron for the federal government to take immediate action following the tragic discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School," said Premier Scott Moe in the release. "With an estimated 20 federal residential schools operated in Saskatchewan, meaningful reconciliation in our province must include research into the estimated hundreds of children that did not return home after attending these institutions, including radar ground search. Saskatchewan is prepared to support this work through the Ministry of First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs in collaboration with the FSIN and First Nations in Saskatchewan."

In 2019, Saskatchewan marked the Battelford Industrial School Cemetery as a Provincial Heritage Property. The site is the resting place for at least 74 children who died while attending the institution. A Provincial Heritage Property designation was given to the Regina Indian Industrial School Cemetery, the resting place of approximately 36 children, in 2017.

Saskatchewan is prepared to support this work through the Ministry of First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs in collaboration with the FSIN and First Nations in Saskatchewan. [3/3]

— Scott Moe (@PremierScottMoe) May 31, 2021

The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996 in Saskatchewan. The FSIN said it knows thousands of children did not make it home and were buried without any markers, and is consulting ground penetrating radar experts.

Several government buildings across Canada have lowered flags to half mast out of respect for the discovery.

Memorials sprung up across the country, including at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, where rows of tiny childrens’ shoes and toys lined the steps, to visualize the magnitude of what has been lost.

A candlelight vigil is planned to be held at the steps of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Monday at 6 p.m.