Sask. woman calling for removal of statue honouring residential school founder

A Saskatchewan woman is calling for the removal of a statue of Father Hugonard, a Roman Catholic priest who founded the Lebret Indian Industrial Residential School.

The statue currently stands in the Sacred Heart Catholic cemetery in Lebret, about one hour northeast of Regina. Star Andreas said she wants it removed from the spot, and placed somewhere else, like a museum.

“We can’t leave it there, because it brings back trauma,” said Andreas.

A statue of a Roman Catholic priest who founded the Lebret Indian Industrial Residential School currently stands in the Sacred Heart Catholic cemetery. (Source: Star Andreas)

THE STATUE’S HISTORY

Father Hugonard opened the school in 1884, west of the Village of Lebret. It was one of the first industrial schools to open, and was the last to close in Canada in 1998. The monument of him was created in 1926 and stood near the entrance of the school until the late 1990s, when it was moved to the Sacred Heart Catholic cemetery.

The monument of Father Hugonard was created in 1926 and stood near the entrance of the school. When the school closed in the late 1990s, Micheal Starr, chief of Star Blanket Cree Nation, said the town approached the reserve about the statue. Star Blanket Cree Nation then gave it to the people of Lebret, and the monument was moved to the Sacred Heart Catholic cemetery.

A person who attended the school for 12 years - who asked to remain anonymous - told CTV News the state was a ‘domineering presence,’ and reminder to “‘Be a good little Indian’ as the priests and nuns were the overall authority over all aspects of our lives.”

Starr said he is also supportive of having the statue removed.

RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL DISCOVERY PROMPTED ANDREAS TO ACT

Andreas said the statue has always upset her. However, given the recent discovery of 215 children buried at a former residential school in B.C., she decided to set up camp near the statue, to raise awareness about what happened at Saskatchewan residential schools too.

“It’s sensitive because there’s two kids, two children that are standing beside this priest. It’s a priest holding two native children…and that’s not cool,” said Andreas.

In the meantime, tiny pairs of shoes now surround the statue of Father Hugonard, placed there in honour of the children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Andreas believes more horrors exist in Saskatchewan.

“I’m pretty sure they got to do a search down here (in Lebret), because people are sharing stories with me about the children,” Andreas said.“We’ve got to start searching for our own here.”

As monuments of figures linked to residential schools come under increase scrutiny across the country, Mi’kmaw lawyer, Pam Palmater told CTV Newschannel she hopes it doesn’t pull focus from the big things that need to happen.

“To really put all the resources, time and attention into identifying all of these children in all of these graves, and making sure they are brought back home to their communities,” Palmater said on Monday.

The church’s response

CTV News reached out to the church about the statue, and was told to speak with the Archbishop of Regina, Donald Bolen. He said he has had several conversations with Andreas about the statue, and ‘understands where she is coming from.’

“Those grounds are really important. They carry the memories of that school,” Bolen said. “I think, if the statue doesn’t accurately depict that experience for Indigenous peoples, it’s good that it go elsewhere.”

Bolen said he agrees with placing the statue in the Lebret Museum. He said he will support whatever the Indigenous community decides.

“True to Indigenous ways, and church ways, we need to go through the right process in making this decision and involve the right people, so that it doesn’t end up creating more conflict,” he said.

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.