Tuesday, September 02, 2014
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Future of Regina residential school cemetery up in air

BY KERRY BENJOE, THE LEADER-POST

No decision has been made as to what is to happen to an almost forgotten cemetery located west of the city at 701 Pinkie Rd.

All that remains of the Regina Indian Industrial School cemetery is a faded white wooden fence that encompasses 680 square metres of land. In the cemetery lie about two dozen bodies of children who attended the school.

The cemetery is located at the site of the school that opened in 1891 and closed in 1910. During its operation, about 399 aboriginal children from across the province attended the school. In 1911, the school became the Regina City Jail.

On Tuesday, the Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee (HMAC) met to discuss the cemetery's future. A decision has been tabled until the next committee meeting. The recommendations included three options: To leave the cemetery as is, to develop a maintenance standard, or to designate it as a municipal heritage site.

The only option recommended by administration was to develop a maintenance standard.

The delegations urged the committee to recognize the site and to honour the legacy of the residential school era as well as its impact on aboriginal people.

Rev. Dawn Rolke, a member of the cemetery commemoration working group, has been working on the issue for the past few months. "We are certainly surprised by the recommendations," she said. "We felt they were quite detailed but they didn't really allow for the complex conversation that we need to have right now."

The working group went to the Saskatchewan Archives and found the admission records of all the students dating back to 1891. Rolke and other members of the committee began contacting families and First Nations to talk about the cemetery.

"We became aware very, very quickly of how sensitive this subject was," she said. "The conversation would take longer for some people and some people would be really ready to go on a recommendation."

She said so much more needs to considered other than whether it looks neat or not. Rolke would like to see the city embrace the cemetery and possibly install an art piece that would commemorate all the names of the students who attended the school.

Chief Barry Kennedy of Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation said he would like to see the cemetery designated as a heritage site and have it accessible to aboriginal people. "So we can go back to that land to be able to have the ceremonies that will be necessary," he said.

Kennedy said more discussion about the future of the site needs to happen with aboriginal people, the city and the property owners because it is a sacred site.

"You have to remember it wasn't a place of our choosing but we will protect to the best of our ability," he said.

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