Archeologists are searching for fragments of history beside the graveyard of Regina’s Indian Industrial School (RIIS).
The residential school opened in 1891 and closed in 1910. Over the next century, it was almost forgotten.
In a field northwest of Regina, an old fence is all that surrounds the unmarked graves of dozens of children. Janine Windolph is the president of the RIIS Commemorative Association which is working to build a permanent memorial there.
“This is a chance to protect the children that are there, to honour them and to remember an integral piece of the civic history that’s here,” she said. “On top of that, it’s provincial history because the students came from all different regions of Saskatchewan and even into Manitoba and Alberta, so it impacts people on a national level as well.”
Windolph says many students died of tuberculosis during that time period and were buried in the graveyard. Surveys of the site show about 36 different plots, but she said it is very possible that three to five children may be buried in the same plot.
As a mother, Windolph says it hurts to think about the children who were taken from their parents and never came home. In many cases, she says parents weren’t even told their child had died.
She is thankful for the work of researchers who have dedicated their time to finding the lists of students who died at RIIS and those who attended the school. The purpose of the archeological survey is to see if they can find any artifacts from the school or any evidence of more grave sites outside the fence.
“What it really does is it gives us peace of mind because there has been a lot of questions as to what’s possibly here, how far the graves go, what kind of artifacts can be found,” Windolph said. “The landowner giving us permission to do that will just give everybody a sense of the truth.”
If the team of two archeologists from Stantec and WSP consulting firms do find any artifacts, the plan is to smudge them in a traditional way then take them for scientific analysis before returning them to the site.