Swan River resident calls for action on Lesser Slave area residential schools
Dear Mr. Rehn
I am writing to you as a constituent of Lesser Slave Lake provincial electoral district and as the wife of a residential school survivor.
Of the 25 residential schools in Alberta, six residential school sites fall within the constituency you represent. Therefore, almost a quarter of all residential schools in Alberta are within the Lesser Slave Lake District. They are as follows:
- Desmarais Residential School, St. Martin’s
- Wabasca Residential School, St. John’s
- Grouard Residential School, St. Bernard’s
- Joussard Residential School, St. Bruno’s
- Lesser Slave Lake Residential School, St. Peter’s
- Whitefish Lake Residential School, St. Andrew’s
Because of this, and in light of the recent findings of the lost children in Kamloops, a great and moral responsibility now falls on your shoulders, as the Lesser Slave Lake representative in the Legislature.
The history of residential schools in this area is long and heart breaking. The First Nations near and around Lesser Slave Lake have been subjected to genocidal practices for over four generations.
The evidence of these crimes is laid out in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s seven-volume account of the Residential School System. This evidence was presented to the Parliament of Canada and accepted as a true accounting of what transpired. From this abundant evidence the 93 Calls to Action arose.
The facts are clear, and the actions needed to be taken have been set out already by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Therefore, your active participation in forensically securing every residential school site within Lesser Slave Lake, is critical. I ask that your work be led by the governments of the First Nations within Treaty 8 Territory, whose children were forcibly removed and taken to these schools.
All means necessary to find lost children must be utilized. Municipalities play a major role in land zoning and land leasing within their geographic boundaries.
Currently, in Joussard alone, the land on which St. Bruno’s Indian Residential School was situated is used for recreational vehicles. Sadly, on the Big Lakes County website, Joussard is described as follows:
“In the last decade, Joussard has awoken from a sleepy fishing village on Lesser Slave Lakes’ shores to become a vibrant tourism and lifestyle destination, attracting all ages to live and visit year-round. Families and retirees can find affordable properties — land, houses, cabins, and RV spots — to buy or rent. Joussard is an ideal community for people who want to enjoy recreation and relaxation every day or on their holidays.”
Joussard has never been just a sleepy little fishing village. From 1913 to 1969, St. Bruno’s Indian Residential School dominated the area and thousands of First Nation children went through its doors.
I have been to the site in Joussard twice with my husband, a survivor of St. Bruno’s Residential School. It hurt my husband to see the site, because you would not have known that a school had once been there. You would not have known about the suffering inflicted on the children, their families, and their Nations. Instead, now you see a sea of campers and a chain link fence around some cement ruins.
It was shocking to witness the utter disregard for the historic, forensic, and sacred significance of this site. This site, on which so many children faced genocidal indoctrination and abuse.
This is not a political issue, it is a human rights issue, and the world is watching. Watching to see how we, non-Indigenous people, all respond, in the face of the lost lives of children and the horrible, personal and intergeneration trauma visited upon the First Nations around the Lesser Slave Lake and within Treaty 8 Territory. The truth is that the pain and suffering of Residential Schools happened here, not somewhere far away.
I call on you, as my representative in the Alberta Legislature, to work immediately with the federal and provincial governments, and the municipalities within Lesser Slave Lake electoral district, to secure each residential school site, even if that means evictions from leased municipal lands. Recreational access should never over-ride a thorough forensic investigation of the grounds of the six residential school sites in your electoral district. Again, I ask that your work be led by the Governments of the First Nations within Treaty 8 Territory, whose children were forcibly removed and taken to these schools.
I will be sending this letter out to the following people and organizations in the hopes of promoting action and accountability on this matter.
Grand Chief Arthur Noskey (Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta), Premier Jason Kenney, Minister Wilson(Indigenous Relations Alberta), Minister of Justice Kaycee Madu, MLA Richard Feehan (Opposition Critic for Indigenous Relations), Rachel Notley (Leader of the Opposition), Arnold Viersen (Member of Parliament for Peace River-Westlock), Cathy Wilcox (Lesser Slave Lake NDP Constituency Association) Ken Matthews (Reeve of Big Lakes County), Murray Kerik (Reeve of Lesser Slave River), Lakeside Leader and South Peace News.
I thank you for your consideration in this, most serious of matters.
Swan River First Nation