Regina site sta­tus sparks hope

Moose Jaw Times Herald - - FRONT PAGE - SARAH LADIK

It was a cer­e­mo­nial walk to com­mem­o­rate those who at­tended and died at the Regina In­dian In­dus­trial School that got Kayleigh Ol­son think­ing about a sim­i­lar fu­ture for a site in Moose Jaw.

“I re­ally felt that spir­i­tual vibe, I felt re­ally con­nected,” she said on Thurs­day, just days af­ter the site’s ceme­tery was granted of­fi­cial pro­vin­cial her­itage des­ig­na­tion. “It made me think it could hap­pen for Moose Jaw too.”

Ol­son is spear­head­ing an ef­fort to get the for­mer Moose Jaw Wild An­i­mal Park rec­og­nized and pro­tected as an Indige­nous her­itage site. She and those work­ing with her held a pub­lic meet­ing in May which more than 30 peo­ple at­tended and have gath­ered over 300 sig­na­tures on a pe­ti­tion sup­port­ing the cause.

The for­mer zoo was built atop a site used by Indige­nous peo­ple for cen­turies be­fore Euro­peans came to the area. Lo­cal his­to­rian Percy Hill said at the meet­ing that the val­ley in which the city of Moose Jaw now sits used to be a hub for trails that stretched far into what is now the United States as well as east and west in Canada. Many ar­ti­facts and buri­als are left over from those times, as well as from later when Sioux refugees came to the com­mu­nity in the late 1800s.

Since that meet­ing, Ol­son has been gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion and sup­port for the project, in­clud­ing from au­thor Bruce Fair­man who wrote a book about the Sioux in Moose Jaw. In early July, she re­turned to the park with Fair­man as well as Ray Usher, who showed her not only an area re­plete with things like ar­row­heads, but also the site of Black Bull’s win­ter camp.

“You never stop learn­ing, I guess,” she said. “It’s crazy to think of peo­ple liv­ing there…. I could feel it. It was just so beau­ti­ful.”

The feel­ing, though pow­er­ful, is not the same at the Regina In­dian In­dus­trial School ceme­tery site. Ol­son said the spir­its there feel lonely, whereas the ones in Moose Jaw are those of peo­ple liv­ing their nor­mal lives in a stun­ning set­ting.

“I want the spir­its in both places to heal,” she said.

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment an­nounced on Wed­nes­day that it had de­clared the school ceme­tery site the 51st Pro­vin­cial Her­itage Prop­erty. At least 35 chil­dren who at­tended the school are buried there and about 500 at­tended from First Na­tions and Métis com­mu­ni­ties in Saskatchewan, Al­berta and Man­i­toba.

“We care deeply about our chil­dren buried at the Regina In­dian In­dus­trial School,” Fed­er­a­tion of Sovereign Indige­nous Na­tions vice-chief Heather Bear said in a press re­lease. “We care about why they died there. They de­served bet­ter than to be buried away from their fam­i­lies in un­marked graves. Though their names may be lost to us now, by pre­serv­ing and pro­tect­ing the lands on which they’re buried, we en­sure they will not be for­got­ten.”

I want the spir­its in both places to heal. Kayleigh Ol­son

Ol­son re­turned to Regina for the cer­e­mony Wed­nes­day night, and re­mem­bered last year when she had brought a small hand-drum to hon­our the spir­its there. She was moved when an el­der, Noel Star­blan­ket, told her that it was a good gift, as now the spir­its there can dance.

The site in Moose Jaw also con­tains burial grounds that Ol­son ar­gues need pro­tect­ing. Mo­men­tum has been build­ing in town, and she said many peo­ple ap­proached her at Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Day, ask­ing about the project and look­ing to sign the pe­ti­tion.

“I think peo­ple care about it,” Ol­son said, not­ing that the Face­book page for the cause has been at­tract­ing at­ten­tion. “And not just Indige­nous peo­ple. At Abo­rig­i­nal Day, all kinds of peo­ple were com­ing and ask­ing about it, and that’s a good thing.”

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