‘What needs to be happening;’ residential school cemetery gets heritage status
Published on: October 3, 2016 | Last Updated: October 3, 2016 7:31 AM CST
REGINA — Along a dusty gravel road on the edge of Regina is a small plot of land surrounded by a rail fence with peeling white paint, weathered teddy bears, flowers and a couple of dream catchers.
There’s just one headstone in the 680-square-metre cemetery for the two children of Rev. A.J. McLeod, the first principal of the Regina Indian Industrial School, belying that dozens of indigenous children from the school are buried there too.
“It’s easy to overlook the cemetery itself. Even when I first came out here, we drove right by,” said Janine Windolph, president of the Regina Indian Industrial School Commemorative Association.
“The site needs to take another step further in basically acknowledging the students that are here and how we can start making it more apparent that this is a scared site for gathering. That’ll all come in time.”
A big step came Sept. 26, when Regina city council voted unanimously to grant the site municipal heritage status. Civic administrators suggested the move after a 2014 land survey found there were potentially 22 to 40 unmarked graves of children in the cemetery.
Windolph said an archeologist for the association identified 36 anomalies, but she said there could be many more children because it was practice at the time to bury several together.
Sakimay First Nations Chief Lynn Acoose, whose grandmother attended the Regina Indian Industrial School, said the heritage designation process has been emotional.
“It’s not only about preserving the memory. It’s not only about preserving the site and the graves. We need to also, from this tragedy, create something powerful and good out of the loss of these children,” said Acoose.
The Regina Indian Industrial School operated between 1891 and 1910. An unknown number of students died there.
Justice Murray Sinclair, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has estimated at least 6,000 children died at residential schools but it’s impossible to say with certainty.
The federal government stopped recording the deaths around 1920 after the chief medical officer at Indian Affairs suggested children were dying at an alarming rate.
Residential schools were often crowded, poorly ventilated and unsanitary. Children died from smallpox, measles, influenza and tuberculosis. Some were buried in unmarked graves in school cemeteries, while others were listed as “missing” or “discharged.” In some cases, parents never found out what happened.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s offices are now closed and the work has been transferred to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.
Centre director Ry Moran said the designation in Regina “is just exactly what needs to be happening.”
“It means that one city in particular has really stepped up and honoured the children that are buried in that cemetery,” said Moran.
“And sadly, across this country, there are many, many, many other locations exactly like the one in Regina. So the fact that we’re seeing the city designate this site as a commemorative site, really I think can help encourage other cities and other jurisdictions to take a real hard look at this work that needs to happen across the country.”
Moran said preliminary estimates suggest there could be around 400 burial sites across the country directly associated with a residential school or where residential school children are likely were buried.
He said the centre recently looked at the cemetery associated with the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ont.
“That’s a really good example of a site where we know there’s kids buried there, but it’s heavily overgrown,” said Moran.
“We know that there’s graves likely outside of the cemetery as well, and that’s just one of many examples of a cemetery that’s really been forgotten and a critical part of our history being ignored and disrespected, truthfully.”
The work is not done for Windolph. She would also like to see the Regina cemetery get provincial heritage designation.
She said it marks a pivotal point in history — the time where cultural and identity loss began.
Early in her artist residency at the University of Regina, Daya Madhur was invited to support the preservice education students on their professional development field trip to Fort Qu’Appelle where the history and beauty of the valley inspired her creative journey.
“As I reflected upon the landscape I often sought to personify the hills and question what they have seen and heard. When creating this performance piece I wanted to portray the complexity of the residential school experience in Lebret and Fort Qu’Appelle. Throughout the creation process I visualized layers as seen from my perspective, historic documents, the students’ lived experiences, and Elder Starblanket’s narrative, soundscape recordings of the river valley, movement, and even the narrative told through the fabric in the dance. My heart lies in the interdisciplinary and I wanted to include all aspects of the fine arts in this project. The initial performance consisted of a dance/drama piece that interacted with the narratives and projected images.”
The video below is a curated adaptation of the performance piece performed on April 14, 2016 at the Walking Together: Day of Education for Truth and Reconciliation hosted by the Faculty of Education, University of Regina and the National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR).”
Dr. Marc Spooner and Dr. Shauneen Pete (on CTV news), professors in the U of R Faculty of Education, discuss the importance of communities looking at who has been memorialized and who has significantly not been, and who has been served and who has not, as we strive towards reconciliation, righting past and present wrongs done to the First peoples of Canada.
The Davin School name (in Regina) is one such example: Nicolas Flood Davin wrote the Davin Report, which was instrumental in establishing the Canadian Residential School system, designed to separate children from their families in order to strip them of language and culture by diminishing parents’ abilities to transmit these vital aspects of their identity to their children.
Davin School memorializes Davin, who was also the founder of the Leader Newspaper and a prominent political figure, but the Regina Indian Industrial School cemetery–where children who died while attending the residential school are buried–is not commemorated (yet). Through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work, it is now understood that the high number of student deaths that occurred while attending Residential Schools were largely due to negligence on the part of the Canadian government and church administration.
Such cases as the Davin School and the RIIS cemetery reveal the priorities and values held by a society suffering from amnesia about the people who welcomed Europeans to this land, and the Canadian government policies that attempted to strip them of their cultures and languages, that separated families for seven generations, and whose policies made First people’s children vulnerable to physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse, and to the intergenerational effects of IRS abuse and loss. It is time to revisit the past, discover the truth, and right the wrongs in order to move forward together, in reconciliation.
A wonderful story from yesterday’s Regina Leader-Post, with video featuring survivor Eugene Arcand and Charlene Bearhead from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
Teaching about the Residential School Era is still not a mandatory part of the Saskatchewan K-12 curriculum but thanks to the events of the day, 1500 students and teachers went home having experienced a crash course on Canada’s hidden history. The Faculty of Education at the University of Regina organized the day’s events and Project of Heart was also on the program; students decorated tiles as witness pieces.
Our thanks go out to Dean of Education Jennifer Tupper for taking the lead in organization a superb Education Day!
(Repost from National Project of Heart site)
CBC Radio’s Sheila Coles interviews Dr. Marc Spooner, University of Regina, on the topic of changing the name of Davin School in Regina, due to Nicolas Flood Davin’s hidden legacy demonstrated in his derogatory comments in the Davin Report, which promoted residential schools for Indigenous children and provided the model for the Residential School System in Canada.
Public Discussion about Controversial Names on Blue Sky: