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Sask. First Nation discovers 54 possible unmarked graves on grounds of former residential schools


More than 50 possible unmarked graves were found during a ground penetrating radar search of the grounds of former residential schools on a Saskatchewan First Nation.

Keeseekoose First Nation announced a total of 54 ground disturbances believed to be graves were detected during the recent radar search, at an event on Tuesday.

“It’s a very solemn day, but at the same time, it gives us closure, and it also opens up the door for more questions, what happened? What really happened?’” Kitchemonia said. “It’s going to be a very tough time for our community.”

Two schools, St. Philip’s and Fort Pelly, were operated by the Catholic Church near the community starting in the early 1900s. Keeseekoose said there were 42 unmarked graves found on the Fort Pelly site and 12 found at the St. Philip’s site.

“Knowing that we had unmarked graves in our community, in our common areas that we drive everyday, that we walk everyday, we pass by them. Never realized that there was graves there,” Keeseekoose Chief Lee Kitchemonia said. “That [has] to be the most hurtful part, the way they were hidden."

Ted Quewezance, the project manager of the search and a residential school survivor, said the locations scanned were identified by survivors and knowledge keepers from the community’s oral history.

“The ground penetrating radar simply validated our oral history,” Quewezance said. “Every announcement of residential schools, residential gravesites, re-traumatizes us survivors and our families and our communities.”

Chief Kitchemonia said winter weather affected the search, so the total findings may not be finalized.

The St. Philip’s school, located on the Keeseekoose Reserve near Kamsack, Sask., was operated by the Catholic Church from 1928-1969, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). It was preceded by a boarding school that originally opened in 1902 and closed in 1914.

Fort Pelly, was opened in the early 1900s. The NCTR said it closed around 1913, following controversy surrounding an incident involving the principal in 1911.

“These residential institutions of assimilation and genocide tore apart our families, they tore at the very fabric of our communities and our nations,” RoseAnn Archibald, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said.

“We’re talking about up to 54 families that were impacted by these littles ones not returning home.”

Saskatchewan’s Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty, a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, attended the ceremony in Keeseekoose. He said discoveries like these are important to help acknowledge the truth about residential schools.

“I encourage everybody that’s listening, not only in this room but else where and all Canadians, to open your minds to learn to acknowledge the true past and history of this country of ours that we call Canada,” Mirasty said.

Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller called this discovery is a “painful reminder” of the ongoing trauma created by residential schools, joining the event via Zoom from Ottawa.

“The painful legacy of Fort Pelly and St. Philip’s residential schools institutions is a deeply personal tragedy for you, for Keeseekoose, surrounding communities who had their children ripped away, and experienced by all communities, Indigenous communities, across Canada,” Miller said.

The minister extended a message to all the survivors of the residential school system and their families.

“In the face of continued efforts in this country to deny the truth, and it shouldn’t have to be said but I feel it does, to survivors and your families: I believe you and Canada believes you,” Miller said.

Keeseekoose First Nation is approximately 286 kilometres northeast of Regina, near the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border.


If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here. Top Stories

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