Winnipeg gathering a way for First Nations, researchers to share stories of unmarked grave searches


Researchers, lecturers and First Nations communities from all around the nation are gathering in Winnipeg this week to share what they’ve discovered of their search for unmarked graves at former residential colleges.

About 250 individuals took half within the Remembering the Children gathering on Sunday and Monday, hosted by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, with extra taking part just about.

Organizer Brenda Gunn says initiating the search for potential graves could be difficult and prolonged, with a quantity of roadblocks alongside the way.

“This work goes to take a long time,” stated Gunn, who’s the educational and analysis director on the centre, which relies in Winnipeg.

“From doing the analysis work earlier than you hit the bottom to deciphering the information as soon as the bottom search is completed after which deciding what to do, what steps may want to be taken if there are potential graves which were recognized.”

Brenda Gunn is the educational and analysis director for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

Those challenges could be lessened by sharing info and greatest practices, Gunn stated.

“By bringing collectively completely different researchers who’ve completely different experiences in doing that archival analysis, in doing the oral historical past, we are able to actually share experiences and be taught from each other … We’re actually strive to share info throughout the communities who’re doing these initiatives,” she stated.

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in southwestern Manitoba has been working to determine burial websites at and across the former Brandon Residential School since 2012.

Elder Lorraine Pompana, who’s a retired counsellor from Sioux Valley and a residential faculty survivor, believes her group’s decade of work making an attempt to get extra details about those that died in residential colleges to their residing relations may also help others.

A woman with grey hair and a white polka dot shirt looks at the camera. Tables of people are in the background.
Lorraine Pompana from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation is concerned within the search for unmarked graves on the Brandon Residential School, the place she attended. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

“Getting info from the assorted teams right here which might be doing the identical goal work is gonna assist everyone down the highway,” Pompana stated. 

“I feel there’s going to be extra connections as we go alongside … that provides us the duty and the dedication to carry on continuing.”

The First Nation has recognized 104 potential graves in three cemeteries, however solely 78 are accounted for by way of historic data, the chief has stated beforehand in a assertion.

It’s particularly essential to join with individuals from throughout Canada as a result of the kids who had been pressured to attend Brandon Residential School got here from all around the nation, stated Katherine Nichols, the First Nation’s venture supervisor in cost of their search for the lacking kids.

“Trying to determine the affected communities and the residing relations is absolutely important to the following steps for these investigations,” Nichols stated.

She stated it has been invaluable connecting with different researchers to discuss challenges they’ve confronted, together with accessing privately-owned land to search for burial plots and looking by way of archival info.

Nichols is hopeful within the subsequent 12 months or two there can be laws to assist navigate these eventualities as increasingly more communities provoke searches for potential unmarked graves.

“I feel Canada has to be ready that these searches can be ongoing for a few years to come. Survivors proceed to come ahead with areas that want to be searched and the names of lacking kids that want to be discovered.”

‘Children have been ready for us for a very long time’

Darrell Boissoneau, from Garden River First Nation, also referred to as Ketegaunseebee, close to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., additionally took half within the occasion in Winnipeg.

The cultural supervisor and particular initiatives supervisor for the Ojibway band says it is essential for Canada to know the reality of what occurred to Indigenous kids in residential colleges.

“Our rights have at all times been swept below the rug. We’ve been thought-about lower than human,” he stated.

A man with a goatee wearing a ball cap looks at the camera. Tables of people stand in the background.
Darrell Boissoneau is the cultural supervisor and particular initiatives supervisor for Garden River First Nation close to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

Boissoneau says he hopes the gathering helps charts the course for completely different communities who’re in other places in their search for justice.

“If you look throughout the nation, everyone is at completely different levels. Some individuals have already began the bottom penetration, some have not, some are simply beginning. We’re at completely different ranges,” he stated.

“Those kids have been ready for us for a very long time and now that we’re right here, we are able to start that actually essential work that is forward of us.”

The Remembering the Children gathering will proceed on Tuesday, with a concentrate on commemorating the lives of those that died in residential colleges and therapeutic from these losses, in addition to defending the websites the place graves are discovered.

Support is out there for anybody affected by their expertise at residential colleges or by the most recent experiences.

A nationwide Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been arrange to present assist for former college students and people affected. People can entry emotional and disaster referral companies by calling the 24-hour nationwide disaster line: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental well being counselling and disaster assist can also be out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week by way of the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by on-line chat at


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