Residential school building in Muskowekwan First Nation in Sask. given national historic site status

An effort led by the Muskowekwan First Nation saw the Muscowequan school northeast of Regina — the last standing residential school building in Saskatchewan — become a national historic site on Thursday. 

Community led effort earned designation for last standing Sask. residential school building

Members of the Muskowekwan First Nation fought to save the former residential school and earned it a national historic site designation on Thursday. (National Trust of Canada/Supplied)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing

A former residential school near Lestock, Sask., about 107 kilometres northeast of Regina, is now a national historic site. 

An effort led by the Muskowekwan First Nation saw the Muscowequan school — the last standing residential school building in Saskatchewan — become a national historic site on Thursday.

Constructed in 1930 and 1931, the school replaced buildings that were used as early as the late 1800s. 

Survivors and community members fought to save the building, as they saw it as an important site that bears witness to the history of residential schools, a news release from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change said.

The release said community members want to see the building repurposed into a place of commemoration, healing and cultural learning, and a site of memory for all Canadians. 

It said 35 unmarked graves have been found on the residential school's property since 1990. 

"Far too long, our survivors have lived through this dark history without recognition, but today marks a new era of reconciliation and learning," Muskowekwan First Nation Chief Reginald Bellerose said in the news release. 

"We have suffered too long from this sad chapter in Canadian history which has long lasting impacts in our communities. We can now speak our truth and have a building that will tell our story from our perspective."

Melvina Asapace walks through the halls of the former Muscowequan Indian Residential School, where her brother attended. The school closed in 1997, making it one of the last residential schools in operation in Canada. (Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press)

The government's news release acknowledged the residential school system was part of a shameful and racist colonial policy that removed Indigenous children from their communities, and denied them access to family, culture and language.

Residential schools had enduring negative impacts on First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities, cultures, economies, traditional knowledge and ways of life, language family structure and connections to land, it said.

Designating the former school a national historic site was part of Canada's participation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to actions. 

The release said it helped the federal government in addressing call 79, which asks the government to implement a national heritage plan and strategy to commemorate residential school sites, as well as residential schools' history and legacy. 

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of 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.