The Lac La Ronge Indian Band is the most recent Saskatchewan First Nation to begin searching for unmarked graves associated with a nearby residential school site. The band began its search on Saturday in an old cemetery west of downtown La Ronge, Saskatchewan, some 375 kilometers northeast of Saskatoon, using ground-penetrating radar equipment.
Lac La Ronge Indian Residential School was located on the grounds in front of the cemetery, which also served as a communal cemetery and is now marked by a few headstones here and there, according to Cook-Searson. The search comes only a week after seven other First Nations started similar efforts in Delmas, Saskatchewan, where the Delmas Indian Residential School formerly existed.
It will take time to complete the job at La Ronge. On the weekend, just 30% of the burial site was investigated, with elders and other band members sometimes taking the reins of the equipment. Cook-Searson estimates that 70% of the cemetery still has to be searched.
The band intends to begin that additional work in late August. Cook-Searson stated that there has been no debate regarding whether any bodies discovered should be exhumed to help in the identification of remains. The launch this weekend was a community celebration, with food and support staff on hand.
Band member John A. Irving offered his years of study on the cemetery, including a replica of the previous residential school, in one information tent. The beginning of the hunt was attended by La Ronge Mayor Colin Ratushniak and Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. The Lac La Ronge Indian Band is Saskatchewan’s fourth recognized Indigenous tribe to begin looking for unmarked graves linked with a residential school.
The Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs, a group of seven First Nations, have yet to release the findings of their recent work in Delmas. Muskowekwan First Nation has announced the discovery of the remains of 35 previously unidentified students. This summer, more construction is planned for the Muscowequan residential school site.
The Cowessess First Nation revealed the discovery of 751 unmarked graves at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School, the largest such discovery in Canada to date.