Sagkeeng First Nation begins search of former residential school site

A search of the former residential school grounds on Sagkeeng First Nation is underway to find the remains of children who were forced to go there. 

The First Nation raised money to hire AltoMaxx, a professional drone services company, to conduct the search using a drone and ground-penetrating radar technology. 

The Fort Alexander Residential School was open between 1905 and 1970. Children from 21 different communities were sent there. 

Elders and survivors in the community have long spoken of the abuses and missing children, including during hearings for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said Chief Derrick Henderson. 

Some have stories of their friends going missing while at the residential schools, he said. 

It was the revelation that the remains of 215 children were found on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., in May that prompted Sagkeeng to do its own search, Henderson said. 

For years, survivors in the community have felt like no one believed their stories, he said.

Drones and ground penetrating radar technology is being used to conduct the search. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“When you’re out playing with someone the day before and then all of a sudden the next day they’re not here, and then the next day you couldn’t talk about it … I think that’s what triggered what needs to be done here, because of those stories,” he said. 

“It’s difficult on our members having to live this, day in and day out, with people not believing what they had said.” 

Henderson said he hopes the search will confirm what happened at the Fort Alexander Residential School once and for all. 

Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Derrick Henderson said he hopes the search brings the truth of what happened at the residential school to light. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“We have to bring this so that the rest of society will understand the truth of what happened.”

The community held a ceremony and smudge at the site before the work began Tuesday. 

The crew is taking direction from elders in the First Nation on where to look, Henderson said. The crew will to scour fields, riverbanks and even the land of the band office itself. 

They will wrap up their work on Friday.

WATCH | Sagkeeng First Nations begins search for remains of missing residential school children: 

Community raised money, hired company to do drone and ground penetrating radar work. 2:42

Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who never came home or residential school staff and operations? Email your tips to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools:

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