REGINA -- A group of volunteers have taken on the task of preserving the Regina Indian Industrial School’s (RIIS) cemetery to honour the children who are buried there.

“It’s our responsibility to simply care for it, make sure there’s opportunity for ceremonies when people - Indigenous or other people - want to come out and visit,” Bill Wall, the secretary of the RIIS Commemorative Association, said.

The RIIS was open from 1891 to 1910. It served as a residential school on the west side of Regina.

“The really sad side of the story - apart from the fact that it was like all residential schools - it was not a good place to be,” said Wall. “There was a lot of illness. So over the course of those 19 years, something like 90 students died.”

In 2014, archeologists found an estimated 40 students buried in a cemetery near the former site of the school. Many of the graves were unmarked with multiple children in each grave. It is now recognized as a provincial heritage site.

The Regina Indian Industrial School Commemorative Association has been working to restore the cemetery since acquiring the land from the RCMP in June 2019.

Stacey Mucha is one of those people helping take care of the cemetery. She says while this project is seemingly small, it is a part of the country’s road to reconciliation.

“Truth and reconciliation involves everybody in our country and showing any little sign of helping out anyway we can is a way of moving forward in a positive way,” she said.

Mucha wants to see the site host traditional Indigenous ceremonies as well as pow wows. Her hope is that the public will gain more knowledge of what exists so close to the city.

“My hope that people stop and take a second to look and just to have respect for the area that’s here and know the knowledge they can share with other people and that’s how we spread truth and reconciliation.”

The team will be working to turn the cemetery into an area more suitable for visitors while also honouring those buried there. Plans are underway to build a street leading to the cemetery and dedicate it to Thomas Moore Keesick – one of the first students in the RIIS.