Saskatchewan’s English River First Nation (ERFN) has made claims that numerous ‘unmarked graves’ can be found on the grounds of the Beauval Indian Residential School. No actual bodies have been discovered in any of these alleged graves across Canada. ERFN reported that using ground-penetrating radar, they were able to locate what they believe to be the graves of 79 children and 14 infants near the northern Saskatchewan village of Beauval.
In response to the findings, ERFN Chief Jenny Wolverine expressed her sadness and stated that their work is far from over, not only at Beauval but at other residential school sites as well. Furthermore, she emphasized the importance of schools being places of education and play, not graveyards.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation provides historical context, revealing that St. Bruno’s boarding school was established by the Roman Catholic Church in Ile-a-la-Crosse in 1860. Subsequently, the school was relocated to the confluence of La Plonge and Beaver Rivers in 1906. Tragically, a fire in 1927 claimed the lives of 19 students and one teacher, completely destroying the school and its dormitories. In 1969, the federal government assumed administrative control of the school, which was then transferred to the Meadow Lake Tribal Council in 1985. Finally, the school officially closed its doors in 1995.
On Tuesday, ERFN elders and representatives from the Meadow Lake Tribal Council joined Chief Wolverine in demanding that Canadian and government leaders address the injustices endured by residential school survivors. Chief Wolverine also urged Canada and Saskatchewan to provide meaningful resources to meet the survivors’ physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs, as well as to address the intergenerational impacts on families.
While investigations into various residential school sites are ongoing, none of the completed investigations have discovered any unmarked graves containing human remains. The discovery of alleged remains belonging to 215 children at the former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., in May 2021 ignited nationwide outrage and prompted Truth and Reconciliation efforts. Unfortunately, no remains have been unearthed at the Kamloops site thus far, and it is estimated that investigations could take up to two decades to complete. The federal government has allocated $7.9 million for the search at the Kamloops site and an additional $3.1 million for a national Residential Schools Student Death Register.
In October 2021, excavation crews conducted a search at Edmonton’s Camsell Hospital after ground-penetrating radar detected anomalies in the surrounding area. The hospital, known for its mistreatment of Indigenous inhabitants, including forced sterilization, was suspected to contain burials. However, no human remains were found during the search, indicating that further investigation at the site was unnecessary.
Similarly, last week, Manitoba’s Pine Creek First Nation attempted to uncover human remains under Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church after detecting anomalies using ground-penetrating radar. Unfortunately, their search was unsuccessful, and no remains were found. The Pine Creek residential school, also operated by the Roman Catholic Church, operated from 1890 to 1969. Records from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation indicated that 21 students allegedly died from abuse at the Pine Creek school.
These ongoing investigations and searches illustrate the gravity of the residential school system’s impact on Indigenous communities in Canada. The discovery of unmarked graves has led to nationwide discussions on reconciliation and the need for further support for residential school survivors and their families. It is crucial for all levels of government to acknowledge the injustices and provide the necessary resources to address the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of the survivors and the intergenerational consequences faced by their families.