George Gordon First Nation announces 14 potential unmarked burial sites at former Sask. residential school

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Leaders of George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan announced Wednesday that 14 potential unmarked burial sites had been found close to the site of the former Gordon’s Indian Residential School.

George Gordon First Nation’s chief and council and the band’s residential school cemetery committee announced the results of a geophysical investigation Wednesday afternoon. 

Chief Byron Bitternose addressed the media, announcing the discovery of the 14 possible burial sites. He also said the search is not complete.

“In upcoming months this area will be a priority, an area for continued searching,” said Bitternose.

“It is my hope that one day we will be able to tell our children the whole story.”

A total of four areas within the First Nation have been searched, he said. One site of high probability was detected.

While the ground-penetrating radar (GPR) data cannot discern if the sites are graves of children, George Gordon First Nation member Sarah Longman says there is a high probability.

“The GPR machines will detect anomalies buried within the ground,” she said.

“You look for recurring patterns, so you look for patterns in similar size, similar shape and similar depths. Those pieces, those recurring patterns are the possible burial areas.”

A prior news release from the community, located about 95 kilometres north of Regina, was scarce with details but said work was underway for months and the work was difficult. 

The release said Wednesday’s announcement would include results from the first geophysical investigation.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s memorial for children who died or went missing at residential schools lists nearly 50 names tied to the institution at Gordon’s. 

The institution was established in 1876 by the Anglican Church of Canada, which operated it until 1946, when it was taken over by the Indian and Eskimo Welfare Commission and eventually the government of Canada. 

  • Do you know of a child who never came home from residential school? Or someone who worked at one? We would like to hear from you. Email our Indigenous-led team investigating the impacts of residential schools at [email protected] 

It was expanded in 1888 to house students before the first rendition was destroyed by fire in 1929. It was rebuilt, but issues with water and maintenance would leave it closed again for extended periods of time between 1947 and 1953.

It would become one of the last residential schools to close in the country when it shuttered in 1996.

A memorial for the students who attended Gordon’s Indian Residential School in George Gordon First Nation. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Shattering the Silence: The Hidden History of Indian Residential Schools in Saskatchewan ebook, published by the University of Regina, cites federal government documents linking a few student deaths and the decades of sexual abuse which took place at Gordon’s.

In 1993 a former employee pled guilty to charges related to sexual assaulting students at the institution’s residence between 1968 and 1984.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419. A Saskatchewan-based line is now available by calling 306-522-7494. 

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