The NWT community built a memorial to name the victims of its boarding school.This is just the beginning
Warning: This story contains some details and images that readers may find painful.
With the increasing demand for information on all deaths of boarding school children, a community in the Northwest region is reflecting on its work to piece together some of the history.
Albert Lafferty said people in Providensburg in the Northwest Territories have been talking about unmarked graves near the former Sacred Heart Boarding School for years. The school was opened between 1868 and 1929.
Lafferty’s own relatives of Dene are buried there.
In the early 1990s, Lafferty led an effort to ensure that the old cemetery was never developed.
“As a little boy who grew up here, I would hear the older generations, elders, aunts, uncles, and parents sometimes mention these…. That’s why I am interested,” Lafferty said.
He collaborated with the Roman Catholic Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese in Yellowknife to study the people buried there.
They brought ground penetrating equipment to search for the remains and confirmed what the community already knew. In 1948, the church rummaged through the cemetery, but left the others in the cemetery before the bodies of eight missionaries were excavated and transferred to the community’s current cemetery.
Lafferty said the church then turned the site into a potato field.
The efforts of Lafferty and others paid off, and a memorial was installed to commemorate the people buried in the Providence cemetery.
It pays tribute to the approximately 300 people buried there, including approximately 161 indigenous children who were taken to school from up and down the Mackenzie Valley, who never returned home. One of the children listed is only a few days old.
“There is more work to be done”
Lafferty said the monument may provide a sense of closure.
“There is still a lot of work to be done for the survivors, future generations and future generations, so we have a better understanding of what happened in Canadian history,” Lafferty said.
Sam Gargan, the former warchief of Dehcho aborigines, also went to boarding school.
“So this whole field is a garden… the whole area is where potatoes are grown along the banks of the river,” he said.
“We never knew anyone was buried here. We heard about it, but we haven’t recorded it until I guess Lafferty did a project to track the names of those who were recorded.”
He believes that there are more students buried in this location than on the monument.
“It may be 500.”
The monument does not provide a complete closure
Gagan said that this monument was just the beginning, and he didn’t think it would be closed.
Gagan said: “In order for our generation and even our children’s generation to heal and start the process, you must hear the church and the RCMP apologize.”
One Bishop Jon Hansen apologizes The Roman Catholic diocese of Fort Mackenzie Smith in Yellowknife, but it is not clear whether the apology has been accepted by the people of the Northwest Territories. Many people want the Pope to apologize.
The indigenous leaders of the Metis National Assembly, the Indigenous People’s Assembly and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami are planning Go to Rome to request in person.
But for Pope Cathy from Norman Wells, she went to Providensburg Cemetery in 2018 to commemorate the people buried there, including her three relatives. This monument has always been her recovery An important part of the brigade.
“I’ve never used the word’closed’, so you know, it gives me peace of mind,” Pope said.
She plans to return to Providence Fort, “so they feel that they have not been forgotten,” she said.
“They don’t have a real tomb, but the monument says it all.”
Watch | How the boarding school monument helped shut down communities in the Northwest Territories:
Anyone affected by boarding schools and those affected by the latest report can get support.
This Indian Boarding School Survivors Association (IRSSS) Call toll free 1-800-721-0066.
A nationwide Indian boarding school crisis hotline has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can call the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419 for emotional and crisis referral services.
The NWT Helpline provides free support to residents of the Northwest Territories 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is 100% free and confidential. The NWT Helpline also provides follow-up call options. Residents can call the helpline 1-800-661-0844.
In Nunavut, Kamatsiaqtut Helpline Open 24 hours a day, call 1-800-265-3333. People are invited to call for any reason.
In the Yukon, people in Whitehorse and Yukon’s rural communities can access mental health services through mental health and substance use services. Yukoners can arrange quick access consultation support at Whitehorse and all MWSU community centers by dialing 1-867-456-3838.