Star Blanket Cree Nation announced the initial findings of ground penetrating radar has located over 2,000 “hits” at the site of the former Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School site near Lebret, Sask.
According to Chief Michael Starr, the discoveries have also yielded a partial piece of a child’s jawbone which is believed to be more than 100 years old.
“Our hearts are heavy today,” Starr said at a news conference Thursday. “Whether you call them Roman Catholics, whether you call them priests, whether you call them nuns, those are the individuals who intended to give us ‘good education,’ but as we understand it, that was not it, that was not the way.”
Also known as the Lebret Industrial School, the school was in operation from 1884 to 1998 and was one the final residential schools to close in Canada.
Star Blanket conducted the search with help from the Indian Residential School Ground Search Project Team and exploration group AXIOM.
Ground Penetrating Radar scans were conducted in the fall and winter of last year. Among the many “hits,” on-site security discovered a fragment of a child’s mandible, or jawbone, near the former school site.
The Saskatchewan Coroners Service has identified the fragment as belonging to a child between the ages of four and six. The bone is believed to be approximately 125 years old.
“We want to honour this young child, the remains of this young child,” Starr said. “We want the governments to take accountability. The churches to take accountability. The police services to take accountability.
“That’s what we want from this.”
Ground search leader Sheldon Poitras said not all of the “hits” may be indicative of graves but could be “anomalies” like tree roots or rocks.
“Does that mean there’s 2,000 unmarked graves? We don’t think so,” Sheldon said.
However, he added, he’s “not surprised” to find human remains as survivors have been adamant over the last several decades that atrocities had been committed while the school was operational.
He noted the recent discoveries have been “validating” for many.
“(Survivors) have always known,” he said. “Those stories have some merit to them, and we’re going to move on that moving forward,” he said.
As the first phase of the search is now completed, more work is set to take place, including determining more information about the “hits.”
Starr said the discoveries have taken an emotional toll on his people.
“It’s changed our mindset, it’s changed our way of life in a way.”