Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone, pictured here speaking during the grand re-opening of the Grand Valley Campground and National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations in June, is calling on the province to designate the site of the former Brandon Indian Residential School a heritage site. That will allow Sioux Valley access to search for unmarked graves of children who were forced to attend the school. (Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun)

Three Manitoba chiefs are calling on the provincial government to grant Turtle Crossing Campground — the site of the former Brandon Indian Residential School — protection under the Heritage Resources Act, which will allow a team to search the site for unmarked graves.

No real progress has been made in allowing a team of professionals to access the campground, located just west of Brandon, to search for the graves of children who were forced to attend the Brandon Indian Residential School, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Chief Jennifer Bone told the Sun.

“We haven’t had any access at all this year,” Bone said.

Things came to a head last year during a memorial walk to the former Brandon residential school held on Sept. 30 after Sioux Valley was allegedly denied access to the land to search for more unmarked graves earlier that week. At the end of the walk, Turtle Crossing Campground owner Mark Kovatch and councillors from Sioux Valley agreed to talk.

More than 10 months later, Bone says no progress has been made in searching for more graves at the side.

Sioux Valley has called on all three levels of government — municipal, provincial and federal — to help with granting the First Nation’s archeology team, which has existed for the last several years, access to the site.

“Today, we’re calling upon the Government of Manitoba to enact their [Heritage Resources Act] legislation and protect the site and recognize it as a heritage site,” Bone said.

The First Nation hasn’t received any response from the province on the issue so far, she added.

“We’ve sent some correspondence to the province, and we’re disappointed that we’re not getting the desired response that we want, what we want to hear,” Bone said.

Granting the site heritage status will allow for family members of the children who attended the residential school and community members of other First Nations whose children were taken to attend the school to mourn the children buried at the site.

In a statement issued by Indigenous Relations Minister Eileen Clarke’s press secretary Jennifer David, the government said it respects the rights of Treaty, Métis and Inuit partners who continue to search for unmarked graves at the residential school and honours the survivors, their families and the children who did not return from residential and day schools.

“We understand that conversations continue to be had between the City of Brandon and the property landowner and progress is being made in order to protect any gravesites,” the statement read. “Manitoba will continue to address the tragic legacy of residential schools in Manitoba, especially with respect to supporting Indigenous-led searches to find and memorialize the children who never made it home.”

When asked whether the province will designate the site as a heritage site, no further comments were given.

The City of Brandon, Sioux Valley and Kovatch have worked together to erect a fence around the site of the known graves at Turtle Crossing, which will happen in the near future, according to Brandon Mayor Jeff Fawcett.

The city will continue to work with Kovatch on “other things,” Fawcett added, though he couldn’t say for certain whether any progress on searching for unmarked graves will be forthcoming.

Kovatch told the Sun Tuesday morning that he was unaware the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) press conference where Bone spoke was taking place, and that he has been trying to work with Sioux Valley for four years on searching for the graves with the First Nation.

“I haven’t been the problem,” he said. “We want to do some more surveying around the existing gravesite. That’s the negotiation we’re having with the city about how to do that properly.”

Kovatch is looking for a “proper, legitimate” archeologist to do the work of searching for unmarked graves, he added.

The archeologist heading up the Sioux Valley search for unmarked graves at the Turtle Crossing site is Katherine Nichols, a PhD candidate who works with the Department of Indigenous Studies and the Department of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.

Nichols and the entire team have dedicated themselves to helping Sioux Valley in their search, Bone said.

“She’s built herself an outstanding team who have put in a lot of effort. They have all the history and all the information and archival records,” she said.

Bone was joined by Chief Hubert Watt of God’s Lake First Nation and MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee in Winnipeg. Children from God’s Lake First Nation, Sioux Valley and other First Nations were sent to the Brandon Indian Residential School, which operated from 1895 to 1972 in the municipality of Cornwallis, located five kilometres northwest of Brandon.

By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 02, 2023 at 08:11

This item reprinted with permission from   Brandon Sun   Brandon, Manitoba
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