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Home News PAGC supports more unmarked grave searches during City Hall vigil

PAGC supports more unmarked grave searches during City Hall vigil

PAGC supports more unmarked grave searches during City Hall vigil
A drumming group performs in front of City Hall during a candlelight vigil for the victims and survivors of residential schools on June 29. -- Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Daily Herald

Warning: This story contains details that can be upsetting to readers

Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) held a ceremony on Tuesday at City Hall in Prince Albert to honour survivors as residential school gravesite searches expand in Saskatchewan.

Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said the discoveries of the 215 in Kamloops confirm the kinds of stories that have been told by survivors for a long time already.

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte speaks at City Hall on Tuesday. Photo by Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Daily Herald

“The survivors there told us stories of children dying in those residential schools,” Hardlotte said.

“They knew from the survivors — their stories — that there was children, small children, buried in the ground of these residential schools.”

Elder Leonard Ermine said that he often wonders what happened to many of his former classmates at Saint Michael’s Indian Residential School. 

He described conditions at the school saying they were taught to only know each other by assigned numbers rather than by their names.

“I was known as 605. You had to remember your number for quite some time. Some of my fellow survivors have passed on; 601, 602, 603 and 604. Those were my friends. We told each other that we would not lose our language no matter what, Ermine said.

“I guess no matter what happened I survived. It’s not easy to forget your fellow classmates. Sometimes I wonder what happened to them.”

Hardlotte said that the PAGC will continue to advocate for justice for children who never made it home from residential school — and stands in solidarity with Cowessess and Kamloops.

“All of our communities in the Prince Albert Grand Council member First Nations have survivors.

The parents that have gone to residential school all over Saskatchewan and Alberta, let’s think about them also,” Hardlotte said.

“We’re here to support each other and we are in this together.”

Métis Nation of Saskatchewan (MN-S) President Glen McCallum said many Métis, including in his own family, also went to residential schools.

“Every one of us is affected by these lost children… It really brings back memories,” McCallum said.

“We will never forget those kids that were lost when they were supposed to be at home being nurtured in their own families.”

Prince Albert Police Chief Chief Jon Bergen said the municipal police force is working to learn and understand how the trauma from the residential school system impacts city residents.

Prince Albert Police Chief Chief Jon Bergen at the vigil on Thursday. Photo by Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Daily Herald

“Our job is to serve all of you… I know and I believe that to heal and to reconcile we need truth,” Bergen said.

“We know that we need to create a more welcoming and inclusive community free from discrimination… Thank you for your partnership in creating a healthy community because I know that’s truly what we all desire.”

PAGC Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie said it’s important not to “fight hate with hate” and to take this time to reflect and support each other through this reckoning. He said to always keep a brighter future in mind for Indigenous people in Canada.

“Show the love and kindness that we truly are. That will go a long way,” Tsannie said.

“We’re still here, we’ll continue on. Support your children to go to school. Let’s occupy those fields where we can serve our own people — create that police force (and) work in this hospital.”

More First Nations in Saskatchewan are preparing to search the sites of former residential schools for unmarked graves. 

The federal government gave the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) $4.88 million to help First Nations gather the information they need to guide them with the process to deploy ground-penetrating radar and identify those graves. 

Hardlotte said he will be in Sturgeon Landing on Monday for another ceremony as the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation begins its process to investigate the site. 

Sturgeon Landing Residential School — also called the Guy Indian Residential School — was a Roman Catholic mission school run by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Saint-Hyacinthe.

The school opened in 1926 and relocated to Manitoba after a fire in 1952. 

“Gathering and supporting one another is very important, we all have been affected by the finding of unmarked graves of First Nation children,” PBCN Chief Karen Bird said. 

Two priests stand in the foreground as the residential school in Sturgeon Landing burns down in 1952. Société historique de Saint-Boniface

“The children who attended at Sturgeon Landing Residential School are our relatives and ancestors, and it will be in ceremony that we can console and be there for one another.” 

PBCN members who went to the residential school in Sturgeon Landing can register for travel support to attend the ceremony. 

“The chief has called for the leaders to support the survivors for that residential school and other survivors,” Hardlotte said. 

“What I’m thinking is they’re going to do a protocol ceremony to start the work with the ground penetrating radar to look at the sites where they have oral information from survivors.” 

Hardlotte stressed the importance of “sharing those stories and supporting each other” through the difficult work of uncovering those graves. 

“I’ve heard a lot of stories of Guy Indian Residential School. A lot of the people that went there were Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation members,” Hardlotte said.

“The most important thing is to get the information so that the work can begin with the proper protocol that needs to be done and for the leadership to support the survivors and also the people that are going to be doing the work at that site.” 

Youth dancers and musicians at a vigil for residential school victims at City Hall on Tuesday. Photo by Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Daily Herald

Hardlotte said he was himself a survivor of the All Saints Indian Residential School in Prince Albert.  He said that experience is shared by Indigenous people across Saskatchewan.

He said by supporting the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in B.C. the PAGC also supports investigations by First Nations across Canada. 

“It’s a time for honouring and supporting Cowessess and also Kamloops. It’s honouring those very children who never came home to their parents,” Hardlotte said.  

“It’s also honouring all the survivors of the residential schools, the intergenerational trauma and the effects of that — that we see today. ”

A national 24-hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to support survivors and those affected. You can access emotional and crisis support referral services by calling 1-866-925-4419.