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Not enough?

All requests for residential school site searches should be a priority
ROb opinion 2000-1333

— Every child matters — but some more than others — 

What a horrible thought... but after reading a local news piece in a recent edition of Lakeland This Week, many readers may have the same one.

The story highlights funding obstacles that are slowing down requests to search for possible unmarked graves at the site of a former Indian Residential School at the Lac La Biche Mission.

The site — which is now a provincial and national historic site —  has received millions in funding over the years to promote its historic wheat fields, printing press, historic church and frontier-lifestyle, but it isn't yet eligible for provincial or federal government funding to find possible hidden grave-sites ... because not enough Indigenous students were forced to attend the site's residential school.

While other sites of former residential schools across Canada are starting exploration projects, members of the local  society that oversee the historic site say their requests for funding have been delayed. They say the delay is because the site is low on the federal government's  "priority" list due to the amount of students who attended the residential school in the five years it was in operation at the end of the 19th Century. Bluntly, it would seem, the school, its religous leaders, and the government of the day didn't kidnap, control, humiliate, assimilate and abuse enough young boys and girls — or do it for long enough — to warrant immediate action from the government of today.

There were 17 students registered in the Indian Residential School at the Lac La Biche Misson between 1893 and 1898. Seventeen.  Not 'only' 17 compared to the estimated 150,000 who were forced to attend larger residential schools across the county — 17.  That's enough.  One is enough. They all matter, they each matter.

And it's not just the amount of students forced into the school where the mandate was to "tame the savages," it's the overall mindset of that time, the way the general society could overlook the treatment, and the generational cascade of pain that has followed. Although the residential school at the Mission operated for just five years, the site was a day school and boarding school from 1862 until 1969; One hundred and seven years.

Do we really think the abuses and cultural assimilation only took place in those five residential school years — and only in the school setting? How these children were treated is a clear indication of how Indigenous families were treated, of how Indigenous culture was treated — and in many case, continues to be treated.

If there are signs of unmarked graves at the Mission site, it's true they may not contain the remains of children from the residential school — but the fact that there could be unmarked graves at all is something that any dignified society needs to address as a priority. 

Members of the Mission's current historic society want to find the answers. The same group along with other community organizations have made great efforts to highlight the dark history of the site as part of its overall footprint. But now, as families and communities are trying to find more answers about that dark time, they are once again let down by the governments elected to represent them.

Perhaps 120 years ago, there were people who questioned how their country's government could treat people in such a shameful way.  Perhaps 120 years from now people will wonder how our government let that suffering continue by putting the plea for dignity in death on a priority list that is based on which child matters most.

MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche - Brian Jean — 780.588.7979

MP for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake - Laila Goodridge — 780-743-2201

Rob McKinley

About the Author: Rob McKinley

Rob has been in the media, marketing and promotion business for 30 years, working in the public sector, as well as media outlets in major metropolitan markets, smaller rural communities and Indigenous-focused settings.
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