MINEGOZIIBE ANISHINABE –
A First Nations community in western Manitoba is preparing to excavate the ground beneath a Catholic church after potential unmarked graves were found in the area using ground-penetrating radar.
Minegoziibe Anishinabe, also known as Pine Creek First Nation, plans to unearth the area under the Our Lade of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church beginning on Monday.
The community hired a company to search the site of the former Pine Creek Residential School last year, which detected 14 anomalies beneath the church.
The excavation is expected to take up to a month.
The community says in a release it will be hosting a ceremony before the search is to start and will burn a sacred fire in a safe space next to the excavation site, where the public is welcome to make tobacco offerings.
The Pine Creek school was run by the Roman Catholic Church and operated from 1890 to 1969 in different buildings on a large plot of land.
The initial search also determined there were 57 additional anomalies found on the grounds around the church and old school site, but the community is only looking into the ones found under the church.
“We understand that over time burial sites may be lost to the natural elements, 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,” Chief Derek Nepinak said in a statement Thursday.
Manitoba RCMP announced last fall they were working with the community to investigate the potential graves.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has a record of 21 child deaths at the school and survivors have long spoken about the abuse there.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2023.
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419. Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.