The two deceased children of the school's principal have the only headstone in the cemetery.

PM PHOTO | FRANK FLEGEL

The two deceased children of the school's principal have the only headstone in the cemetery.

May 26, 2014
FRANK FLEGEL
PRAIRIE MESSENGER

It's a small plot of land sitting on the northwest edge of Regina. Overgrown with grass with a single tree in one corner and a couple of bushes in the other, the site is enclosed by a faded and falling down white board fence.

It's a cemetery, one in which an unknown number of First Nations children are buried, their identities unknown.

They were students at the Regina Indian Industrial School, which was near this site from 1891 until its closure in 1910. Most, it is believed, died of tuberculosis or complications of it.

The site also contains the bodies of John and Robert McLeod, young children of the school's first principal. A single headstone marks their burial site.

A group of Regina residents are trying to get some recognition for the cemetery and the children in it, and on May 6 the group gave a presentation in the theatre of the Regina Public Library.

STRANGE AMNESIA

"There is a strange amnesia about the school and cemetery," said the Rev. Dawn Rolke, a United Church minister who has a lead role with the group's efforts.

Don Black, a former member of the city's Heritage Committee, gave a brief history of the school and noted that, in all the books written about Regina's history, no mention is made of the school or the cemetery.

Lisa Hein, another member of the group, an archaeologist with the Stantec group of companies, became involved at the request of her company.

A survey of the site conducted using technology that could look underground discovered 20 "anomalies." There could be more, and this summer the search will expand beyond the fenced area.

An anomaly is an indication the dirt is different from that surrounding it but is not necessarily a grave, Hein explained.

MORE THAN 400 STUDENTS

Rolke said an admissions register indicates 399 children came to the school, but letters by Presbyterian women from the former Knox Presbyterian Church, which was connected to the school, indicates many more children probably attended and perhaps 35 to 40 are buried in the cemetery.

The group has contacted 45 bands from which the children came and all expressed an interest in doing something about recognizing the site.

Blair Stonechild, professor at First Nations University of Canada in Regina, said it is the spirit of the deceased children that is important. "Giving the site recognition would give their spirits rest."

The cemetery is on private land and the owner, who was not identified, told the group he has no intention of disturbing the site.