A 'comprehensive plan in place' for searching former Sask. residential school sites after feds pledge nearly $5M

The Government of Canada has announced funding to help search for unmarked burial sites at Saskatchewan’s former residential schools.

It’s providing $4.88 million to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) to help gather knowledge about the sites and support any necessary ceremonies.

“We acknowledge the ongoing impact of intergenerational trauma. We must never forget the tragic history of residential schools,” said Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

The announcement comes less than a week after the province promised $2 million to help.

“We do have a comprehensive plan in place…and we will be working closely with each of our member nations that have had sites,” said David Pratt, second Vice Chief of FSIN .

Pratt said on top of the searching, more services are going to be needed to help people heal from the trauma.

“We say we’re alright, but we know it's still inside us, inside our hearts,” said Chief of Fishing Lake First Nation Derek Sunshine.

“Obviously, mental health supports, addictions, the list goes on and on in terms of the those supports that we’re going to be needing moving forward,” said Pratt.

Eddie Bitternose grew up on Muskowekwan First Nation and is already aware that there are bodies buried around the former Muscowequan Indian Residential School.

The former Muscowequan Indian Residential School building still stands on the Muskowekwan First Nation (Colton Wiens/CTV News)

“I think working with my dad, we pulled out our first box when I was about 12,” said Eddie Bitternose, who attended Gordon’s and Muscowequan Indian Residential School and Lebret (Qu’Appelle) Indian Industrial Residential School. “The priest at that time reburied it up on the hill...”

Bitternose said at the time, it was almost normal to come across a grave and go and tell the priest. He remembers finding seven or eight more graves while doing construction one summer.

“Then we’d have a little burial ceremony up on the hill and the day went on,” Bitternose said.

A 2018 study of the land around Muscowequan discovered 35 grave sites, but it only covered a small portion of the area. With the new funding, the entire area will be searched, and Bitternose expects more graves will be found.