Ceremony commemorates aboriginal children’s cemetery

The third commemoration ceremony of the century-old cemetery for aboriginal children from a Red Deer residential school was held on Saturday.

The third commemoration ceremony of the century-old cemetery for aboriginal children from a Red Deer residential school was held on Saturday.

The ceremony took place on the grounds of Sunnybrook United Church.

It was attended by the Remembering the Children Society, descendents of former students of the residential school, Mayor Morris Flewwelling, Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, MP Earl Dreeshen and a long list of members, dignitaries and elders from a number of Central Alberta First Nation communities.

The cemetery is located on the north bank of the Red Deer River, directly across from the Fort Normandeau site, just west of Red Deer.

As in the previous two years, a feast ceremony was held to honour the children buried at the old Red Deer Industrial School cemetery.

The children, mainly from Stony, Cree and Métis communities, would have attended the Red Deer Industrial School, which operated from 1893 to 1919.

But the ceremony was also about bringing attention to First Nations heritage, said Charles Wood, who was a former student of the Blue Quill Indian Residential School near the town of St. Paul from 1946 to 1952.

He used the word “Indian” as an example, saying that when Christopher Columbus discovered America he thought he reached India and referred to the indigenous people as Indians.

“That name has stuck with us,” Wood said.

“We are not Indians. I am Cree.”

The fourth and final Remembering the Children ceremony will be held next year and organizers hope it will be a much larger event that will coincide with the Regional Truth and Reconciliation event in Alberta.

Jarrid Poitras, president of the Remembering the Children Society, said the cemetery, discovered in 2005, should be preserved in history.

He vowed to make sure future generations know about the site.

“Those were our ancestors and this is our story and our healing,” he said.

Muriel Stanley Venne, vice-president of the Remembering the Children Society, who also brought greetings from the Métis Nation of Alberta, added to what Poitras had to say in that the ceremony also serves as a reminder about the women who lost their children.

The society has evolved from a working group that focused on the recovery and commemoration of the cemetery but the group also hopes to create public awareness about residential school history.

jjones@bprda.wpengine.com

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