A group of concerned citizens was successful in having the Battleford Industrial School Cemetery, located south of the town of Battleford, designated a Municipal Heritage Property.
Benedict Feist, a member of the group, said the Rural Municipality of Battle River passed a bylaw designating the property a heritage site, meaning it will be protected and preserved for the future. The project was started in an effort to fulfill a call to action of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report pertaining to missing children and unmarked burials.
The commission was mandated to make Canadians aware of the history of Canada’s Indian residential schools during a time when Indigenous children were systematically removed from their families and culture in accordance with government policy.
"The Battleford Industrial School was the first federally-sponsored residential school in Canada," Feist said. "It's an important part of the history that we should be remembering."
Feist said in the process of having the property designated a heritage site, a statement is registered on the land title for that property. If the property is ever sold in the future or if anyone tries to modify the property, they must advise the provincial government of their intentions.
"They can't just make changes to the property," he said. "They couldn't remove the cemetery markers or something like that down the road. It also ensures the property is permanently protected and permanently marked in a public records system."
A cairn was erected at the gravesite in 1975 to recognize the 74 individuals buried there, most of whom were children. A plaque with their names inscribed was placed on the cairn by the Anglican church that operated the Battleford Residential School on behalf of the federal government. The school operated between 1883 and 1914, and the original school building no longer exists.
The school was originally located about three kilometres south of Battleford, while the cemetery is southwest of the former school in the Battle River area.
Meeting, commemorative walk planned
Feist said organizers working on the Battleford Industrial School Cemetery Commemoration Project will provide an update on the status of the cemetery at an upcoming community meeting scheduled for May 14 at North Battleford Library. They are also planning an event called Walking for Reconciliation at 1 p.m. on May 18. Feist said some local schools are also planning to attend the event.
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