Shingwauk survivors begin protocol talks for search of unmarked graves
A group of residential school survivors are meeting this weekend to discuss protocols around the search for unmarked graves at a former Sault Ste. Marie residential school.
Survivors of the Shingwauk residential school site began discussions Friday, with a goal of creating a plan for when it comes time to release results of the findings at the former site.
Shingwauk search coordinator Jay Jones told CTV news it comes down to two schools of thought on what to do with any graves that are discovered.
"One is leave the remains, if the remains are found, leave them alone, mark it and memorialize it," Jones said. "The other is to do a ground true thing, which is invasive, the process, it's a lot longer, a lot more in depth and involves a lot more people."
Ground radar scanning began at the end of September on what is present-day Algoma University.
Jones said it's likely those scans have already returned results.
"What we did was ask the companies that are going to analyze the data for us, please hold the data and then when we're ready to deal with any findings or any anomalies, then we will ask you to give us the results," he added.
Sixteen residential school survivors are taking part in the discussions over the weekend. Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association president Irene Barbeau is one of them.
"I've been doing this for over 30 years, there's nothing I haven't heard before," Barbeau said. "But for the rest of Canadians, it's almost like, well finally you believe us, because you have the evidence, where we didn't have the evidence but we knew it was a fact."
Barbeau said she was fortunate during her time at the Shingwauk residential school not to have experienced any abuse. She also looks fondly on her time there because of the friends she made.
"I still keep in contact with all of them, and that was over 50 years ago," she said. "But it also depends on the era and if you speak with survivors from the 30s and 40s, it was much, much worse."
Sisters Christine Solomon and Sophia Kleywegt also attended the school, near the end of its operation. The pair said they often had to keep their guard up, especially when speaking their own language.
"There was a sense of relief when we finally began to do this here at the site," Solomon said. "It's closure for families and curiosity, how many did we lose, the little ones."
The sisters said they were happy to see how quickly the RADAR began after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a former site in Kamloops, B.C.
"I said, oh finally, finally, it's a relief feeling to know that they're found," said Kleywegt. "Healing is a crucial part of this and we're grateful to be able to take part in this process."
The group said it's unlikely they'll have all its protocols in place by the end of the weekend, but members are hoping to meet again later this month.
Jones added that he expects to have a plan in place by January.