Residential school graveyard may become heritage site

By Angela Brown
November 1, 2017 - 5:00pm

Several Battlefords area advocates are asking for the public's help to turn a former local residential school burial ground into a municipal heritage site.

The site, located near the former Battleford Industrial School, a residential school that closed in 1914, is currently situated on private property, about three kilometres south of Battleford.  

North Battleford lawyer Benedict Feist, educator Sherron Burns and lawyer Eleanore Sunchild will meet with the RM of Battle River council Thursday, to request approval to designate the land a heritage site.

“We’re all working together and trying to get public support behind the project,” said Feist.

”It’s very important,” he said, adding the work to designate the land as a heritage site also came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report recommendations, which included a reference to preserving this cemetery that have “been lost and forgotten about.”

Feist said preserving the cemetery in the region will also help preserve the dark history of residential schools both locally and across Canada.

He said these are sites where the community will be able to gather and "think about our shared history."

A cairn was created for the gravesite in 1975 to recognize what is believed to be more than 70 individuals buried at this cemetary. Of the 70, about 50 students who attended the school have been identified by name from historical records.

The cemetery currently contains numbered markers the graves; the result of an excavation project by the University of Saskatchewan.  

The private property owner however doesn't allow public access to the site.

Feist said initially the RM of Battle River was supportive of the idea to turn the land into a heritage site when the topic was discussed in July. However in the fall, the project organizers heard the land owner had objected to the proposal, so the advocates wanted to meet with the RM directly again.

“Hopefully, we'll encourage them to rethink this decision and think about the importance of this site, both to Indigenous community members and non Indigenous people in the Battlefords," said Feist.

He said if the site was declared as a heritage property, the landowner would not be able to make any changes to the site where the cairn and burial ground are located.

“It’s really just protection and a record on a legal document that this cemetery exists here on this site,” Feist said. 

“This isn’t about what three people want, it’s about what the community wants,” he said. “If people are interested in this project, it’s good if they are able to get into contact with the RM of Battler River or with another elected official – whether it’s a mayor or the MLA in the area – and encourage them to support these efforts.”

 

angela.brown@jpbg.ca

On Twitter: @battlefordsnow

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