Minegoziibe Anishinabe suspects there may be unmarked graves underneath Catholic church and site of former residential school
A First Nation plans to excavate the basement of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in northwestern Manitoba. Photo courtesy Justin Richard
Warning: This story contains details about child abuse and residential schools that may be upsetting. The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day at 1-800-721-0066.
APTN News: Minegoziibe Anishinabe, also known as Pine Creek First Nation in northwestern Manitoba, is planning to dig up the basement of its Catholic church to see if bodies of residential school children are buried there.
The excavation is scheduled to get underway Monday following a sunrise ceremony, lighting of a sacred fire and community feast.
The community-led, forensic anthropological dig could last up to four weeks, said Chief Derek Nepinak in a news release.
“We understand that over time burial sites may be lost to the natural elements,” he explained in the release, “but to bury remains under a building suggests a dark and sinister intent that cannot be unaddressed as we expose the truth of what happened in our homeland.”
A private contractor using ground penetrating radar detected 14 possible burial sites or anomalies under the church last year.
Nepinak said the contractor detected a further 57 anomalies in the ground around Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church and site of the former Pine Creek Residential School, but only the ones underneath the church are being excavated.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has a record of 21 child deaths at the school, according to The Canadian Press.
Nepinak said his community decided to do its own search after Kamloops First Nation reported it had discovered a possible 215 potential unmarked graves at the site of its former residential school. “[Our community] committed to its own truth exposing initiative,” Nepinak said in the release.
“Community spiritual leaders and Elders joined together in trauma informed and culturally grounded engagement sessions to arrive at a plan of action to help reveal the truth of history for the benefit of future generations of Minegoziibe Anishinabe citizens.”
The RCMP announced last fall they were working with the nation. “The investigation into possible criminality in relation to potential burials at Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Roman Catholic Church has moved into a new phase,” RCMP said at the time.
“After a year of interviewing community members, conducting surveys, and following up on leads, the RCMP has not uncovered evidence at this time related to criminal activity specific to the reflections detected at the site.”
The RCMP said it has a plan in place and investigators assigned should something be found.
Minegoziibe is approximately 300 km from Winnipeg.