author: ethan williams | contributor
Residential schools are Saskatchewan’s dark history
It was a long battle, but proponents of a municipal heritage designation on a Residential school cemetery west of Regina have gotten what they were seeking. At the end of September, the City of Regina approved the designation of heritage status to the cemetery site where as many as 40 children, who did not survive torture and abuse from the school, lay in unmarked graves.
Blair Stonechild is a professor of Indigenous Studies at First Nations University. He says the cemetery has a long history and significance.
“It was part of the Regina Indian Industrial School, which was a residential school in Regina. It was originally built in 1890, and operated until 1910.”
It is now widely known that Residential schooling was a way to assimilate First Nations peoples into European-Canadian culture from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. Originally started by government and run by the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches, 6,000 children died in these schools, according to Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as first reported by Global News.
In fact, Stonechild says the Residential Schools program has direct ties to the Queen City. One of the original proposals for the program came from Nicholas Flood Davin, an editor for Regina’s first newspaper. He pushed the government at the time to implement a schooling system for what he called “Indians and Half-Breeds.”
“It was Davin and the Presbyterian Church that started the school and cemetery outside the city in 1890.”
Although it hasn’t operated for over a century, Stonechild says many living in Saskatchewan hold ties to the cemetery.
“There are folks you come across. In fact, at City Council when they were proposing the designation for this cemetery, there were a few people that spoke about or had ties to it.”
The City of Regina has also been involved in the planning of the historical designation. Mayor Michael Fougere says that making the designation was not just a City Council decision.
“It was based on consultation with the RISE committee, many First Nations peoples living in and around Regina, and other parties as well.”
According to the Mayor, the RISE committee is made up of First Nations residents living in Regina who assist the City with issues such as this one. In terms of the cemetery, the designation means that no changes can be made to the site without council’s approval. However, Fougere says that there are plans to honour the site other than just a declaration on paper.
“That is the goal, but it is very important that other groups have a say. The heritage reservation is currently larger than the boundaries that we know of the cemetery, so the first thing is to find out how big the cemetery is, because it appears to be bigger than what we know of today.”
He says once that is completed, members of the community will have a say on what they think should be placed at the site to remember those lost.
Fougere also says the main reason for designating the site was a show of symbolism.
“It is a very important, sustainable, symbolic way to show Indigenous peoples and other people in our city that we support the proper protection of the site.”
His comments of sustaining the heritage of the site echoed that of Stonechild, who says the cemetery shouldn’t simply be forgotten and that it has an impact on the lives of First Nation’s living in Canada today.
“[Residential schooling] was really genocide, or the Final Solution, of First Nations in this country. There was assimilation in various ways, such as this. It’s important to remember history.”