‘Needles in haystacks’ search for remains at Delmas residential school

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SNC-Lavalin and Battleford Agency Tribal Chiefs Inc. (BATC) has expanded a ground-penetrating radar search to include oral history at the former site of a residential school near Delmas, Sask.

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“We need to collect all the oral stories from the peoples of the First Nations,” said BATC director Neil Sasakamos. “We also need to collect stories from non-First Nations people.”

Sasakamoose said the discovery is a needle in the haystack and adds that the best information on Delmas Residential School is coming from non-Indigenous people. People are contacting the team to see what they remember. They are using every possible source they can find.

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“We are looking for the children. Our story right now is that we have none. We got a baby,” Sasakamos said. “We haven’t been lucky enough to add to the large list of children found.”

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BATC is overseeing two residential schools: St. Henry Residential School and Battleford Industrial School near Delmas. Sasakamoose says this is a very difficult project because the search is hitting the odds.

The team found the remains of a 13-year-old boy who was located a mile from the Delmas residential school. Sasakamos said he believed the boy died in 1910.

“Someone put a marker on his (grave),” Sasakamos said. “He’s our only identity (child) right now.”

Sasakamose said that the children studying in this residential school were transferred several times. The team is taking forward its location search by going back in history.

“In Delmas, we don’t have a place now. There is no place where children are laid to rest,” he said. “We are mapping it right now. To confirm the reported deaths. We are checking all the records of the school.

The search team is also looking to see how accurate the reported deaths are and is going through the registry of each child who attended Delmas Residential School and Battleford Industrial School.

“We are trying to find out where they ended up,” he said. “We’re trying to find each person on that list and see where they ended up in life … and whether there is any record of their last residential school.”

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When the team gathers all the stories, they will document what they find and put the findings into a report to determine what happened to the children at the two schools. The discovery is a three-year project and is funded by the federal government. The distance between Delmas Residential School and Battleford Industrial School is over 35 kms.

The Indian Residential School Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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