‘Protect the land, never forget the children’: Regina Indian Industrial School cemetery transferred into care of commemorative association

A land transfer ceremony took place on Tuesday afternoon for the unmarked graves of approximately 40 First Nation and Metis children in Regina.

The children were believed to be students of the Regina Indian Industrial School. Over 500 Indigenous children, ages 3 into their early 20’s, were forced to attend the school. Many of them were from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“The ceremony today was a critical moment in recognizing the importance of the children who lie here with unmarked graves,” Debbie Hill said. “It marks the importance of what really happened in our history.”

Hill, whose paternal grandparents attended the school, brought her granddaughter to the ceremony. She is a direct descendant of Chief Gabriel Cote, one of the signatories of Treaty 4.

Hill said the impact of the school is still being felt in her family today.

The ceremony included Regina-Wascana MP Ralph Goodale, RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki and Regina Indian Industrial School Association President Sarah Longman. The federal government and the RCMP assisted in transferring the land from the private owner into the care of the Regina Indian Industrial School Association.

“The symbolism with respect to reconciliation is especially strong involving the RCMP because of historical factors and circumstance,” Goodale said. “For the RCMP to be the facilitator of this important gesture of reconciliation is especially meaningful.”

According to RCMP, the location was once used to store hay for the RCMP Depot Divisions horses.

Representatives of the impacted communities were present for Tuesday’s ceremony.

“I thought it was important for her to be involved,” Hill said of her granddaughter. “It’s good education for them to learn the things that I didn’t get to learn in school, our history.”

The RIIS association says it will work towards seeing this site gain federal heritage status so that it will be further protected from development.

“The children will never be forgotten,” Sarah Longman, president of the RIIS Association said. “That is a commitment that the RIIS association has made to the community.”

RIIS operated in the area west of the Dieppe neighborhood from 1891 to 1910. The schools cemetery received municipal heritage status in 2016 and provincial heritage status in 2017.

“It’s important that we educate ourselves,” Longman said. “That every citizen challenges themselves to learn about the history.”