Over 2,000 areas of interest discovered at former residential school site

The Star Blanket Cree Nation in Saskatchewan says ground-penetrating radar has discovered more than 2,000 areas of interest at the site of one of the longest-running residential schools in the country.

One fragment of a jaw bone dating from the late 1800s, belonging to a child between four and six years old, was also found.

Project lead Sheldon Poitras says his team is looking at options, including DNA testing, to confirm what is there, but says they don’t believe all are unmarked graves.

A jaw bone fragment that has been identified to be of a child from about 125 years ago was also discovered, and Poitras says it’s believed to be physical proof of an unmarked grave.

“(It) was analyzed by the Sask. Coroner’s office,” said Poitras. “It is a jaw bone fragment of a child between the ages of four and six.”
Poitras said they don’t believe all two-thousand sites are unmarked graves.

“Now we have to come up with a strategy on how we’re going to determine what’s a stone, what’s a piece of wood, or gravel, or what that might be actually,” Poitras said.

The Axiom Exploration Group performed Phase 1 of the radar search around all the flat land near the school. Areas for the search were selected after testimonials from former students and elders who witnessed or heard stories of what happened at the school.

“That’s what guided us, was the stories, was the data we collected from that,” said Poitras. “We made sure that was  first and foremost in our minds when we direct Axiom , ok, concentrate here, concentrate there.”
Poitras said they got some help for how to do their ground search from the Cowessess First Nation, which had their own search near their former residential school.

The school was run by the Roman Catholic Church from 1884 to 1973.
Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations talked about the finding of the child’s jaw bone.

“That same child would have been someone’s parent, someone’s grandparent and chapan (great grandparent),” he said.  “But that child never got the chance to live life and experience it. Never got the chance to have Christmases and family gatherings.”

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools over a century in Canada and reports have detailed that many experienced emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual abuse.

(with files from The Canadian Press)

–National Indian Residential School Crisis line is 1(866)925-4419–

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