SADDLE LAKE, Alta - Work is moving forward in Saddle Lake Cree Nation to determine how many unmarked graves exist at a former residential school location.
The site in question refers to the Blue Quills Sacred Heart site only, which was located in Saddle Lake. The school was in operation from 1898-1931. It does not refer to the location just outside of St. Paul that is now known as University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills (UnBQ).
The location of the former school and the Sacred Heart church in Saddle Lake were next to each other. The Sacred Heart Parish and graveyard still do exist in Saddle Lake, although the school does not.
Over the years, accidental excavations of unmarked graves have occurred while the community was digging new grave shafts in Saddle Lake, according to Leah Redcrow, Director of Stakeholder Engagement with the Acimowin Opaspiw Society.
The society has hired Eric J Large to lead an investigation team that will be looking at three sites where there may be missing children and unmarked burials. The three sites are the three former Blue Quills Residential School sites.
Last week, during a media conference, it was noted that records obtained by investigators point to at least 212 students having died at the school between 1898 and 1931. It was also noted that in 2004 the community discovered what could be a mass grave.
"The amount of missing children is extensive," said Large, while speaking to media. "There's records out there we haven't even seen yet."
Redcrow says last week's announcement was made in order "to inform our People in a mass dissemination, with engagement from our membership to come forward. It was also for the government to act. All of which has been accomplished as of today."
The residential school was first located in Lac La Biche at the Notre Dame Mission from 1891-1898. The building was then moved to the Saddle Lake location in 1898, which was known as the Blue Quills reserve at the time, according to Redcrow.
In the 1930s, a building was constructed closer to St. Paul, which is the third site and the current location of UnBQ.