Federal government gives Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs funding for ground search, research
Ottawa commits nearly $2.8 million over three years.
The Battlefords Agency Tribal Council (BATC) will receive millions of dollars to help identify remains found at former residential school sites.
Ottawa has committed nearly $2.8 million over three years to research, document and honour the memory of those who did not come home.
The Roman Catholic Church operated the Thunderchild Residential School — which also goes under the names Delmas and St. Henri — from 1901 to 1948 at Delmas, just outside the Thunderchild reserve. The Anglican Church operated the Battleford Industrial School from 1883 to 1914.
Deaths at the two schools have been documented in the past. Forty-four deaths were recorded at the Thunderchild school, and 107 deaths recorded at the Battleford Industrial School. But the BATC believes those numbers to be inaccurate.
Ground-penetrating radar work has already begun, but there are no new unmarked graves to announce at this time. The work is being conducted for free by SNC Lavalin.
The BATC says it is extending its search grid for the Delmas residential school. But the BATC says they plan on doing more than uncovering new unmarked graves. They want to identify those whose graves are known as well.
"We're going to start finding out what happened. Who are they? What are the names of the kids? Who were they? Where do they come from?" said Neil Sasakamoose, executive director of the BATC.
"We want to give names to the numbers. So we're not here to add numbers to a growing list, we're here to put names to the people that are no longer here. That's our goal. We want to give their names back to their families. And we want to let their families know where they are."
Sasakamoose says a gravestone of Henry Atcheynum, 13, was discovered approximately one kilometre from the Delmas search grid. He says someone left Atcheynum a grave stone in 1910. The family has no information on how he died.
Chief Lorie Whitecalf of the Sweetgrass First Nation says Atcheynum was a relative of hers.
"I am relieved that the Canadian government has finally taken responsibility of the tragedy that our people endured and were forced to suppress," Whitecalf said.
BATC say they will work with elders for cultural support and guidance in all aspects of the project.
"It was known that children lay in unmarked graves. We don't know if the deaths were recorded or where the children are. This announcement will help fund the research to find answers to these questions — answers for all the families that attended the two schools," said Chief Cheryl Kahpeaysewat, tribal chair of the BATC.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered 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.