Portage residential school museum in works

Work is underway to turn a former residential school near Portage la Prairie into a museum chronicling the impact of residential schools on Canada's aboriginal people.

Work is underway to turn a formerresidential school near Portage la Prairieinto a museum chronicling the impact of residential schools on Canada's aboriginal people.

The proposed museum site, which was a residential school for more than 50 years, was known by several names over its lifespan.The building and adjacent land arenow owned by the Long Plain First Nation.

Chief Dennis Meeches said he hopes to open the Indian Residential School Museum of Canada early next year.

"I think it's very, very important that we preserve the history of what happened at these schools, so that we don't repeat policies of that nature, or regulations of oppression," Meeches said.

Meeches says a curator is in the process of gathering old government policies regarding residential schools, creating simulated classrooms, and planning memorials for children who suffered violence at the school.

Standing outside the building in Portage, Meeches recalled a story his mother hadtold him.

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"She actually ran away from this school, along with a few of their friends," Meeches said.

"They were caught along the river heading back home, [the]Assiniboine River, heading towards Long Plain. They were brought back to the school and their heads were shaved."

Opening may be delayed

Meeches said the museum was slated to open by the spring of 2008, but he said Long Plain does not have enough money to cover all of the costs. As a result, the opening may be delayed.

The museum is estimated to cost $8 million.

Meecheshasapplied for financial assistance under a new federalfund set up for former residential school students. He said he is waiting for Ottawa to respondto that request.

"We've received a bit of money from the Museum Assistance Program, and… [the] Aboriginal Healing Foundation," Meeches said, "but it's just kind of seed money. You know, the big capital expenditures,we're kind of waiting on that."

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation estimates that there were nearly 20 residential schools in Manitoba.