Manitoba First Nation uncovers 187 anomalies at former residential school

A search of the grounds of a former residential school in northern Manitoba has uncovered 187 anomalies, according to First Nation leaders.

Pimicikamak Cree Nation Chief David Monias made the announcement Wednesday alongside residential school survivors.

Monias said the anomalies were discovered on the school grounds and surrounding areas.

“For us, it’s quite shocking to hear that many because you wonder how many missing children are there? How many children were actually going to school?” he said.

The Pimicikamak Cree Nation used ground-penetrating radar technology to search an area that included the former school site, the community’s airport, and land where 25 homes currently sit.

This comes after the First Nation launched an investigation in 2021, followed by a search of the grounds of the St. Joseph’s Residential School a year later. The school was run by the Roman Catholic Church in Cross Lake from 1912 to 1969. About 1,240 children attended the school, the First Nation said.

At the outset of the search, Monias had said the First Nation identified the names of 85 children who died at the school, but noted it was unknown where the children were buried or if this list is an actual record of the number of children who died.

The investigation wrapped up in 2023 and on Wednesday, Monias presented the findings.

Monias said the 187 anomalies measure between one to two meters.

Experts who have searched other residential school sites in Manitoba have previously noted anomalies are disturbances in the soil that could fit the criteria for potential unmarked burial sites, but cannot say definitively what exactly the anomalies are.

The discoveries underscore the tragic history of the residential school system, he said, and the urgent need for reconciliation and healing.

He added more investigation is needed to understand the significance and context of these findings.

Meantime, Pimicikamak Cree Nation plans to hold ceremonies at each of the sites honouring those who might be buried there.

“Each anomaly and unmarked grave represents a life and a story that was unjustly silenced. As we move forward, our ceremonies will not only honour these souls, but also will serve as a crucial step in our community’s healing process,” Monias said.

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