(Warning: Story contains disturbing details)
Ground-penetrating radar has been utilized to scout various sites at the Shubenacadie Residential School location in central Nova Scotia as part of investigations same as those that uncovered the remains of 215 children in Kamloops, British Columbia.
The Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative shared news Monday of the investigations that have been taking place under the guidance of residential school survivor and elder Dorene Bernard.
The group said in a press release that some locations at the Shubenacadie site have already been checked. It said no human remains or graves have been found thus far.
This past week, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said preliminary discoveries from a ground-penetrating radar survey found the remains in Kamloops. Indigenous communities in Canada have been mourning the deaths of the children in British Columbia and demanding searches happen at every residential school.
“I sat there and I just cried and said, ‘Oh my God, I thought this was going to be over and now this is happening,'” said Lottie May Johnson, a survivor of the Shubenacadie Residential School. “We knew that there were burials but we didn’t know where.”
Johnson lit a sacred fire on Sunday with some other community members in Eskasoni in Cape Breton as a way of commemorating the lives of the children in British Columbia.
The fire will burn till Wednesday.
“I went in when I was 10 years old. I said I could have been one of these kids, probably. I was choked until I was unconscious by a nun and for a long time I couldn’t speak, I was afraid.”
Johnson, who spent 5 years at the school from the ages of 10 to 15, remembers being locked up multiple times in what she called a dungeon, as well being confined in closets and bathrooms.
The Nation Center for Truth and Reconciliation lists the names of 16 children who died while attending the Shubenacadie Residential School, which run from 1929 t0 1976. The establishment was destroyed in 1986.
The school is described on the center’s website as one that suffered from poor maintenance, poor construction and overcrowding.
The organization additionally notes a 1934 federal Inquiry that was held into flogging of 19 boys at the school. They were permanently scarred. Nobody was held accountable.
Now 76, Johnson has dedicated much of her time to healing and helping other survivors of Canada’s residential school system that removed over 150k children from their families.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that she was also a part of estimates the actual figure of children who perished while attending the school could be 6,000 or more.
Flags have been lowered at half-mast in establishments around the province to honor the children in B.C.
A memorial at the Sipekne’katik First Nation, close to the old Shubenacadie school site, is being visited by some people.
They have been placing shoes on the steps of the Catholic church of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha to honor the children.
“I fear for a relapse of our people’s mental health, they’ve been through a lot and our community is still feeling the effects of it,” said Chief Mike Sack, who is embracing the idea of comprehensive searches of the site.
Similar memorials are coming up around N.S., including at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Halifax and at Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton.
16-year-old Jada Paul is the youth chief of the community. She said it has been moving to see the support from so many folks bringing shoes to the steps of the local Church of St. Anne.
“It’s heartwarming but it’s also heartbreaking to see that our people have been through so much,” she said.
The Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative said in a press release it is now looking at other possible sites to advance its search for remains with ground-penetrating radar, in addition to considering ways that can be utilized to search surrounding Snides Lake.
Support is available for any individual affected by their experience at residential schools, as well as those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been created to offer support for former students and those affected. Persons can access crisis and emotional referral services by dialing the 1-866-925-4419 any time.