The Regina Indian Industrial School (RIIS) stopped operating in 1910, but its impact will forever leave a mark on Saskatchewan’s history.
A graveyard where at least 38 of the students were buried will now be protected by the provincial government.
Children from 40 different communities attended the school, which operated from 1890 until 1910.
After the school was closed, the building was used as a jail and later a home for delinquent boys. It was destroyed by a fire in 1948.
The graveyard was given provincial heritage status Wednesday, which will ensure it remains protected from future developments.
Phillip Ledoux spent 14 years of his life in residential schools and said he was torn away from his parents.
“It was like a jail sentence,” he said.
After he left, Ledoux said he felt lost and decided to join the military. He described basic army training as “a piece of cake compared to being in residential schools.”
Ken Cheveldayoff, minister of parks, culture and sport, said the heritage status not only recognizes the site, but more importantly pays tribute to the young children who lost their lives.
Janine Windolph, president of the RIIS commemorative association, has been helping spearhead the initiative to get the site recognized. The City of Regina gave the site municipal heritage status in 2016.
Windolph said she was emotional this part of the journey has come to an end.
“You definitely feel the weight being lifted today, hence the tears.”
Windolph said when she first came to the site, it was like there was a “heavy fog on the land,” but said it has slowly been lifted over the years.
“Now it’ll become a place of light and positive energy, but it’s because people are coming here and interacting with the land, putting their tobacco down and saying their ceremonies,” she said, adding more ceremonies will take place to continue healing the area.
Additionally, Windolph said the association wants to fix up a fence around the site, extending it to include people buried outside of its existing boundaries, and also put up a sign.
“They’re simple actions but they’re actions that have lots of meaning.”
There is currently an application to have the graveyard receive federal heritage status.
Identifying the children
Work is also still needed to be done to identify the children buried at the graveyard.
“The problem with a lot of these schools, especially the earlier residential and industrial schools, is a lot of their records have been lost,” archaeologist Lisa Hein said.
Hein noted they have been able to recover the admittance register and school newspapers, but they are missing the exit register.
“That would’ve provided us with a little bit more information on the burial of the children of this school,” she said.
The archaeologist explained they are unsure how many children were buried in the graveyard because some of the bodies could’ve been stacked at the time of burial.
She said a geothermal study was done on the land and there were 38 instances where something other than earth was discovered.