The Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs (BATC) in Saskatchewan says it’s expanding its search for graves connected to the Thunderchild Indian Residential School at Delmas after the discovery of a grave marker outside of where experts were looking.
An initial search in the immediate area of the former school site located 30 km west of the Battlefords last year didn’t turn up any graves. But records show 44 children died at the school – and Elder and resident testimony say there are indeed graves waiting to be found.
The only grave that’s so far been discovered was that of a 13 year old boy by the name of Henry Atcheynum.
He died in 1910 and his grave stone was located last summer by a farmer-about a kilometer from where the ground penetrating radar search was conducted, also last year.
“A child, a mile from where they’re supposed to be, so now the evidence is taking us to a totally different location. The search grid for Delmas isn’t an immediate area anymore—it’s going out to the Saskatchewan River,” Neil Sasakamoose, the executive director of the BATC told APTN News.
Sasakamoose said testimony from elders and residents in the area is that children’s graves were moved-possibly twice.
“Some might have been moved together, like say, if they were in that area where they were building the Yellowhead Hwy, there might have been movement there. There might have been movement just inside the town of Delmas, but there are residences now there on top of what they think.
“Some of them are underneath residences there. It’s really a sad story.”
The search is set to resume this spring and Sasakamoose said it’s incredibly challenging trying to get landowner approval and also trying to pinpoint where to look.
“And when you start doing search grids in 2 miles and based on older history, it—ya know, I don’t want to say they’re a needle in a haystack but it’s very difficult to find where those kids are.”
Once the Delmas search is complete, the focus will shift to the Battleford Industrial Residential School.
That school was operated on the site of the former Territorial Government House in Battleford by the Anglican Church, and later the Diocese of Saskatchewan.
On Tuesday, the federal government pledged $2.8 million over three years for work related to identifying remains, as well as to research, document and honour the children who attended the two residential schools, but never made it home.