(Cross Lake) A Cree First Nation chief in northern Manitoba is sorry that Pope Francis did not include the unmarked graves in his apology last week for the abuses suffered by Indigenous students in residential schools.
While welcoming the apology, Pimicikamak leader David Monias says he is ‘saddened’ that the pope has not acknowledged the discovery of what are believed to be unmarked graves at some former residential school sites for aboriginals in Canada.
“We seem to find that the more burials are discovered, the more people tend to accept it. […] People forget they were children and we need to make sure we know what happened to those children,” Chief Monias said Tuesday.
Pimicikamak is one of many First Nations communities preparing to research the grounds of a former residential school.
The community worked with a researcher to identify the full and partial names of 85 children it says died while attending the facility in the area, also known as Cross Lake.
The community discovered this information last year. About a dozen children identified were only called “boy” or “girl”, says David Monias.
“It was really devastating. We were happy to have (the names), but it triggered a lot of things for us […] because when you read these things, it has an effect on you,” he testified.
Previously, the community was aware of 30 students who had died while attending school through documentation from the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.
Two schools operated in the community which were both destroyed by fires, Monias said. The community is aware of the presence of a mass grave for children who died in one of the fires in 1930, he said. The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation documented the death of a teacher and 12 children.
A new school was rebuilt in 1940. In 1969 the schools were transferred to the provincial government.
Monias says there are plans to search the premises with ground-penetrating radar as well as review government, medical and religious data collection to develop a database of student names.
“We want to know how many children have gone to school here, how many have gone home and are there any other missing children? And if they are missing, where are they buried?, he said. We have to tell the whole story. »
The ground search, which has yet to begin, could last six months to a year, Monias said.
The community also plans to build a permanent monument to honor the memory of former students, including children from Cross Lake who attended other residential schools.
The First Nation is calling on all levels of government, as well as authorities from the Catholic Church in Manitoba and the Vatican, to join in the investigation.
The community sent a letter inviting the pope to visit Pimicikamak, Monias said. The pope has announced his intention to visit Canada, but no date has yet been announced.
The school operated from 1912 to 1969 and was the main boarding school in northern Manitoba.
The Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help survivors and their loved ones suffering from trauma evoked by the memory of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.