By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A Manitoba Grand Chief is offering her support after a Saskatchewan community announced that more than 2,000 anomalies have been discovered in the ground near a former residential school and that human remains found near the site have been confirmed to be those of a young child.
“Our hearts are with Star Blanket Cree Nation as they grieve this new discovery,” Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Kathy Merrick said in a media release.
“For many, it is a heartbreaking affirmation of what we knew was coming, but is still hard to hear and process.”
During a media conference on Thursday, Star Blanket Cree Nation Chief Michael Starr spoke about discoveries made, after ground penetrating radar (GPR) searches were conducted near the former Lebret Indian Industrial School site, northeast of the city of Regina.
Starr confirmed that the searches, which began in November, have now uncovered more than 2,000 anomalies, while a jawbone fragment that is believed to be more than 100 years old and from a child between the ages of four and six was also discovered near the site.
Starr also confirmed that additional work needs to be done to determine what each of the discovered anomalies represents, and said officials do not believe that all anomalies discovered are unmarked graves.
The next steps will include “core sampling” to check for DNA, and to confirm which anomalies might represent unmarked graves, he said.
Merrick said Manitoba’s Indigenous leaders will now offer their support to the Saskatchewan community as their investigation continues.
“We are here today to do whatever is necessary to find healing and to bring our little ones home,” Merrick said.
“We send prayers to the team working diligently to ensure our little ones are discovered and given a proper farewell surrounded by family and ceremony.”
Indigenous communities across Canada have been conducting ground searches for unmarked graves near former residential schools over the last year and a half, since what is believed to be 215 unmarked graves of children were discovered near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C. in May of 2021.
In Manitoba, searches have taken place and some continue in several First Nations communities, including the Sagkeeng First Nation, the Sandy Bay First Nation, and the Pine Creek First Nation.
Merrick added she now worries that the news could be traumatic for residential school survivors living in Manitoba, and she hopes that anyone struggling with the news will reach out for help if they feel they need to.
“The truth that survivors carry is heavy,” she said.
An Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week in Canada for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience or the experience of someone they know. The crisis line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.
-Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.