Search of Pine Creek Residential School site in western Manitoba finds 14 possible unmarked graves
Total of 20 anomalies under Catholic church in the First Nation
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Pine Creek First Nation is asking police to investigate after a ground-penetrating radar search of a former residential school site in western Manitoba revealed 14 more anomalies that could be unmarked graves, the chief says.
Last month, AltoMaxx, a British Columbia-based company, searched the Pine Creek Residential School site, including using ground-penetrating radar to search under a Catholic church.
The community received the search results Aug. 2, and 14 anomalies a metre below the earth were discovered.
That's on top of six other anomalies found by AltoMaxx and reported to the community in June.
Chief Derek Nepinak said elders specifically asked the First Nation to start the ground-penetrating search at the site of the church.
"We have a lot of different stories that people carry from their time attending the school. Some people are certain that there are there are bodies buried under the church. There used to be also an incinerator … in that area as well," he said on Monday.
"We're working on the oral narratives of the past and trying to find what the truth might be. Of course, anomalies are anomalies. We're not necessarily saying that these are certainly burials, but we may need to to get to that depth of investigation to determine whether they are or not."
Nepinak said he's asked the local RCMP to begin an investigation into the anomalies, and regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations Cindy Woodhouse is working to ensure the RCMP's major crimes unit becomes involved.
Tara Seel, a media relations officer with the Manitoba RCMP, said a meeting is being scheduled between senior management and First Nations leadership to determine a path forward.
The decision to involve the police was a difficult one, Nepinak said.
"We all know that they played a role in rounding children up and bringing them to these schools, so in some ways they're investigating a history that they participated in," he said.
"But we have to trust that in this day and age, there's been a shift in the way these relationships are established, and going forward, we hope that they do the right thing if we go to them and work on a collaborative investigation."
Consistent with unmarked graves
Although it's not clear what the anomalies in the soil are, Nepinak said he's been told they're between one metre to 1.25 metres in length (three to four feet), and are consistent with other ground searches of unmarked burials in Canada and elsewhere.
It's challenging for community members to hear these details, he said.
"We're just trying to help people, bring closure and bring healing into their lives — addressing some of these that are longstanding. Some people have lived with these stories for their entire lives," Nepinak said.
AltoMaxx returned to the site of the old residential school to do a broader search last week and further reports of any anomalies are expected in the coming weeks, Nepinak said.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.