A five-day gathering on the former site of the St. Michael’s Indian Residential School for survivors has come to an end.
Keith Burns was hoping to meet up with some old friends and classmates, “mainly because I wanted to be in contact with my friends from back then. I hadn’t seen a lot of them and I sure would like to see them again,” says Burns
St. Michael’s, located in Duck Lake, Sask., about 85 km northeast of Saskatoon, ran from 1894 until it closed its doors in 1996.
Burns didn’t meet up with too many past classmates, but he did give his input on what should be done with the site.
“They should build some kind of healing lodge here to help with residential school because it doesn’t just happen with us like it’s going to go for generations,” Burns tells APTN News.
Leo Omani also attended St. Michael’s as a child. He came to the gathering and shared his own personal family tragedy.
“I came on my own as part of my healing journey to talk about the loss of my late mom’s brother who was not told about her parents were – not told about it until months later and we still don’t know where he’s buried,” says Omani.
He’s been searching for answers for many years and hopes that when the Catholic Church provides the records they can start searching the area for unmarked graves and his uncle’s grave can be identified.
“He’s buried someplace here I tried in 1990s to find his unmarked grave I could never find it so I am glad they are going to do the scanning on this grounds,” he says. “They will be able to find unmarked graves and hopefully the catholic church will disclose the records.”
Unfortunately, many children were renamed by the church while attending residential school.
“We don’t know what the Catholic Church named him his first name and second name we do know his Dakota name,” says Omani. “It means screaming hawk, he was given that name because he had such a high-pitched voice when he sang our Dakota ceremonial songs.”
Omani says even though the nuns and priests told his grandparents that his uncle died from an illness, students told another story when they arrived home from St. Michael’s.
The gathering wrapped up with a healing walk on the last day to help survivors and descendants on their healing journey. It’s not yet known when the old St. Michael’s school grounds will be searched. This gathering was an opportunity to get survivors’ input on what areas need to be searched.