Committee seeking recognition of Regina residential school cemetery
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A Regina advisory committee is taking strides for protection and proper consultation of a century-old residential school cemetery.
Recommendations by the Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee (MHAC) about the Regina Indian Industrial School cemetery were passed through the Community and Protective Services Committee meeting on Wednesday and the issue will now go to the city administration for consultations with different levels of government.
"You always want to make sure you do the right things along the way... we need to find out who we need to contact and how we need to handle it. We've never done this before," said city councillor Jerry Flegel, who heads the Community and Protective Services Committee.
The cemetery has been on the minds of the MHAC for the past two years after the Global Transportation Hub location was being considered. The issue finally started making moves after they were able to have an archeologist look into the site - who found 22 grave plots - and different industries started being built around the property.
"You can't just walk away from something like this and leave it to potential development. We know about it so we have to do something. Heritage is more than bricks: it's our history, it's our culture, it's our language," said David McLennon, who is on the MHAC.
The owners of land were contacted by the MHAC who informed them of the cemetery's existence. They have told the committee they intend to honour the cemetery. The site is not currently developed but it is a future location of the West Industrial Lands Secondary Plan, which includes the GTH, and already Pinkie Road is set to be widened for the influx of vehicles coming into the area.
Members of the MHAC spoke at the meeting as well as archeologists Lisa Hein about the need to consult First Nations bands in the area before contacting levels of government. City administration says they need to contact the provincial and federal government to see who should be taking the lead of the lengthly process.
"We need the provincial government to help us engage all the different groups that need to be engaged and help us with the consolation process," Liberty Brears, a policy analyst with the city, who says some of the students that attended the school where not from the Regina area.
The cemetery is located next to the Regina Indian Industrial School, which forcefully educated First Nations' children from 1890 until shutting down in 1910. The building became a municipal jail and boys' detention centre before burning down in 1948.
More graves possible, unknown amount of children buried
The cemetery location might be larger than expected according to archeologists working the MHAC.
Hein and fellow Stantec Consulting senior archeologist David McLeod carried out a survey of the cemetery in November through a technique called EM-38, which measures soil disruption. They found 22 possible gravesites, including one marked grave which belongs to the residental school Reverend and first principal's children.
The electromagnetic technique is non-intrusive to respect the graves but only looks at the number of graves and cannot tell how many people may be buried in each grave plot.
“(In some older cemeteries) a lot of times you can’t pick out the individual grave shaft but you can find out the parameters of the plot,” said McLeod, saying that two graves can turn up as one larger blimp on the survey.
Hein said in a previous cemetery archeological survey in Prince Albert they found stack burials and that Aboriginal elders have indicated to her there might be multiple children in one grave shaft.
The EM-38 can only measure two to three metres of soil and McLeod said that blow dirt on the south end of the cemetery may have covered potential grave sites so it can not be read by the machine.
Hein says they plan to go back in spring to look at the site again, this time going outside of the fence.
“It’s time to expand our search and look outside. Make sure we are not missing everybody,” said Hein.
According to an archived correspondence from 1921 by Jen McAra, former Regina Mayor Peter McAra’s wife, the original cemetery fence burnt down in a prairie fire and also might have destroyed wooden cross “that marked the last resting place of thirty-five or forty of our little Indian children.”