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Searching for residential school graves in Onion Lake, Sask., ‘opening up old wounds,’ survivor says

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Searching for residential school graves in Onion Lake, Sask., ‘opening up old wounds,’ survivor says

Chief Henry Lewis of Onion Lake Cree Nation says work is underway to search the St. Barnabas and at last the St. Anthony’s residential school internet sites for unmarked graves. Onion Lake is found about 50 kilometres north of Lloydminster, which borders Saskatchewan and Alberta.

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Chief Henry Lewis of Onion Lake Cree Nation says work is underway to search the St. Barnabas and at last the St. Anthony’s residential school internet sites for unmarked graves. (Onion Lake Cree Nation)

WARNING: This memoir contains distressing critical points

In 1923, a young boy named Edward wrote his fogeys about what it used to be fancy being a student on the St. Barnabas Indian Residential School in Onion Lake, Sask. 

“I’m at all times hungry,” he shared in a letter quoted many a protracted time later in the 2015 findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Rate of Canada (TRC). “We most effective obtain two slices of bread and one plate porridge. Seven kids ran away because [they] are hungry.”

St. Barnabas burned to the flooring in 1943. One other residential school, St. Anthony’s, operated in Onion Lake except 1974. 

This present day, work being carried out on the school internet sites — positioned about 50 kilometres north of Lloydminster, which borders Saskatchewan and Alberta — is dredging up painful reminiscences.

The Onion Lake Cree Nation began searching for unmarked graves using flooring-penetrating radar tools last week, becoming the fifth Saskatchewan First Nation to say it has undertaken that hard task in contemporary months. 

Lewis attended the St. Anthony’s Indian Residential School except he used to be 15, he said. (CBC News)

“It has been somewhat an expertise, bringing attend the reminiscences, opening up old wounds from the past,” said Chief Henry Lewis who attended St. Anthony’s except he left as 15-365 days-old in 1969. 

The TRC came upon that 4,100 named and unnamed students died in residential schools across Canada, and that many fill been likely buried in unmarked and untended graves at school or school-connected cemeteries. 

Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the commission, has said as many as 25,000 kids can fill died on the schools.

St. Barnabas Indian Residential School in Onion Lake, Sask., pictured here in 1906. The school used to be burned down in 1928 by two students who fill been sentenced to 5 months in reformatory, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Rate of Canada (TRC). The school resumed operations in a new building except 1943. (The Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan (P1-4779))

St. Barnabas, which used to be operated by the Anglican Church, is the principle discipline being searched in Onion Lake. The First Nation shall be planning work on the positioning of St. Anthony’s, which used to be operated by the Catholic Church.

“I imagine that there would be some [other] discipline areas identified by elders where they instructed a search to be finished,” Lewis said.

A message posted on the First Nation’s Fb internet page last Thursday encouraged folks which can presumably well presumably be induced by the technique to name the residential school disaster line (1-866-925-4419) or Onion Lake’s healing and wellness centre. 

“Here’s a exhausting day, nonetheless a healing day too,” the put up said.

Fogeys resisted school officers

Main Christian denominations operated approximately 20 federally funded residential schools in Saskatchewan beginning in the unhurried 19th century. After being separated from their communities and families, kids fill been subjected to various forms of neglect and abuse. 

Fogeys resisted their kids being despatched to St. Barnabas and St. Anthony’s, the TRC reported in one of its six volumes of findings

The commission cited a 1906 letter in which the principal of St. Barnabas complained the school used to be “completely powerless in the topic of persuading or forcing the fogeys to send their kids to school. [They] both merely snicker or point easy refuse or in some instances occupy the kids away or coax them to bustle away after they’ve been in the school for some time.”

  • Regain you realize of a kid who by no device came residence from residential school? Or anyone who worked at one? We would fancy to listen to from you. E mail our Indigenous-led team investigating the impacts of residential schools at [email protected] or name toll-free: 1-833-824-0800

When two boys ran away from St. Barnabas in 1941, they fill been positioned and returned to the school by the RCMP. 

St. Barnabas survivor Ula Hotonami testified to the commission that she used to be strapped by a laundry superintendent for joking with a student in the hallway.

Most elders who attended St. Barnabas fill died, Chief Lewis said. 

St. Anthony’s Indian Residential School, veritably identified as Sacred Heart, in Onion Lake, Sask., pictured here in 1959. The school closed in 1974, practically a decade after an inspection warned picket-body buildings required sprinklers, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Rate of Canada (TRC). (Shattering the Silence/University of Regina)

Survivor Shirley Waskewitch testified to the commission that, while a student at St. Anthony’s, she developed scabs in all places her body and used to be uncovered to the varied girls by a nun. 

Principals at some residential schools extended their energy over the deepest lives of Indigenous folks by arranging marriages, including at St. Anthony’s, the commission wrote. 

“In 1936, the principal appealing an inventory of scholars who had turned sixteen who, he believed, mustn’t ever be discharged,” the commission wrote. “He insisted on keeping the students since he would ‘at all times are trying to marry them as rapidly as they leave the school.'”

Other First Nations in Sask. undertake searches

Onion Lake Cree Nation is proper the most modern Saskatchewan Indigenous community to begin searching for unmarked residential school graves since B.C.’s Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported the discovery of a burial discipline adjacent to the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in unhurried Could perhaps perhaps. 

The Lac La Ronge Indian Band in north-central Saskatchewan only recently began searching for unmarked graves connected to the Lac La Ronge Indian Residential School in La Ronge, Sask.

The seven First Nations that obtain up Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs fill no longer yet introduced results from their contemporary work in Delmas, where the Delmas Indian Residential School once stood. 

Muskowekwan First Nation has said it had came upon what it estimates to be the remains of 35 previously unidentified students. More work is deliberate on the Muscowequan residential school discipline this summer season.  

Cowessess First Nation introduced a preliminary finding of 751 unmarked graves at a cemetery shut to the former Marieval Indian Residential School — the biggest such discovery in Canada up to now.


Support is on hand for anybody tormented by their expertise at residential schools, and those which can presumably well presumably be induced by the most modern studies.

A nationwide Indian Residential School Disaster Line has been situation up to assemble support for former students and those affected. Individuals can entry emotional and disaster referral providers and products by calling the 24-hour nationwide disaster line: 1-866-925-4419.


Regain you’ve got information about unmarked graves, kids who by no device came residence or residential school workers and operations? E mail your guidelines to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: [email protected].

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Searching for residential school graves in Onion Lake, Sask., ‘opening up old wounds,’ survivor says