|Since our last post “The Efforts of Two Saskatchewan Lawyers to Preserve the Battleford Industrial School Cemetery”, posted on June 23, 2017, we have received an update from Eleanore Sunchild and Benedict Feist, the lawyers in the fight to gain heritage status for the graveyard.|
The Battleford Industrial School Cemetery was granted Municipal Heritage status on April 5th, 2018. This designation protects the cemetery from substantial changes impacting the site’s heritage features. The designation also holds symbolic importance as recognition of the site and its spiritual and cultural significance for family of the residential school students buried there.
In the spring of 2018, approximately a year after our project started with a public forum at the North Battleford Library, we held another meeting to discuss the Municipal Heritage designation. We planned the first approved public visitation to the cemetery that had occurred in decades.
Although the landowner initially opposed the walk, after some discussion, access was granted and we held a walk to the site on May 18th, 2018 with approximately 50 community members. A second walk to the cemetery occurred on June 13th, 2018 with twenty Native Studies 30 students from North Battleford Comprehensive High School who laid tobacco and learned about the Battleford Industrial School. We also held a traditional Cree feast for the former students of the Battlefords Industrial School.
At both the walk and the public information night, we encountered community members attempting to downplay or minimize the damage caused by the Battleford Industrial School or by Residential Schools in general. Creating a forum for this public dialogue to occur is important, because it allows everyone present to get a better understanding of how Residential Schools and “Indian policy” have impacted the nine First Nations communities surrounding the Battlefords. Indigenous people throughout Saskatchewan continue to experience effects from the Indian Residential school era such as high rates of poverty, arrest, and engagement with the child protection system. These issues connect with the colonial history of our province.
We are continuing to work on provincial-level heritage designation with an aim to have full public access to the cemetery in the future. We are grateful to the members of the legal community and citizens of the Battlefords that have supported our efforts.