On Tuesday, February 15, it was revealed that 54 unmarked graves had been discovered on the sites of two former Residential Schools on the Keeseekoose First Nation.
A ceremony was held in the Keeseekoose school gymnasium, starting with a flag song and an honour song, alongside a pipe ceremony.
Chief Lee Kitchemonia explained his thoughts on the findings.
“I think about all those children that went to school, and that's really what it boils down to is seeing your kid leave your house in the morning time, and not realizing that you will never ever see your child again for as long as you live. Not knowing any answers to where those children have gone, all you know is that they are gone to school, and never returned.”
Kitchemonia explained that he does not think this is the end, but rather opens the door for more questions.
“Are there more graves out there? We don’t know that. We got caught up in the snow, so the numbers we have here today are the numbers we are presenting, but it also opens the door for more questions.”
He stated that this news shook the community.
“It’s going to be a very tough time for our community. Knowing that we had unmarked graves in our community, in our common areas that we drive everyday, we walk everyday, we pass by them. Never realizing that there was graves. That has got to be the most hurtful part, is the way they were hidden… who does that?”
Kitchemonia asked who will be held accountable for the graves, stating the graves could potentially be murdered children.
“We don’t know any of these answers, so we need to fight for these records to see what happened, to see who these graves belonged to. They could be our aunts or uncles, our grandfathers or things like that. They’ve vanished off the face of this earth, never to be seen again.”
He does not know if the community will ever get closure but prays for it every day.
The areas were identified by school survivors, and knowledge keepers from oral history and were searched with ground-penetrating technology, stated Ted Quewezance, project manager, former community leader, and survivor.
“The ground-penetrating radar simply validated our oral history. Keeseekoose survivors and families want closure as reclamation retraumatizes our families.”
Maps were unveiled showing the 42 graves found at the Fort Pelly School site and the 12 found at the St. Philip’s School site
“The historical record of Keeseekoose, the oral tradition, includes what survivors directly experienced, what survivors saw, what survivors heard. These stories have been part of our truth-telling for the last 125 years. We all knew that we would find gravesites,” stated Quewezance.
Quewezance explained that when it came to students not coming home, or students who went missing, their stories usually fell on deaf ears.
“Many Canadians still cannot believe that a human being can treat a human being, especially a child, like the way we were treated. Many in the churches could not believe that those committed to God could treat children that way.”
Various speakers were assembled in person and online, ranging from Chiefs of the FSIN and AFN, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, the lieutenant governor, alongside several elders and residential school survivors from the community.
Mary Culbertson, the first woman treaty commissioner in Saskatchewan, spoke about growing up on the First Nation and hearing stories about the schools.
Archbishop Donald J. Bolen of the Regina Archdiocese offered an apology, stating the church is sorry for the role it played in the pain and suffering that occurred at residential schools and the intergenerational trauma it is still causing.