Notes for Remarks by
HON. RALPH GOODALE, PC, MP (REGINA-WASCANA)
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
RCMP LAND TRANSFER CEREMONY
REGINA INDIAN INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL CEMETERY
June 25th, 2019
Chiefs and Elders and extended family members
FSIN Vice-Chief Lerat
Metis President McCallum
Deputy Commissioners Breton and Fisher
Minister Makowsky, Speaker Doherty
Members of the Legislative Assembly
Mayor Fougere and City Councillors
President Sarah Longman and all members, past and present, of the RIIS Commemorative Association, including Reona Brass today representing the late Elder Noel Starblanket.
Many other distinguished guests and friends. Many of us have gathered in this place many times before.
Let me begin by expressing our gratitude for being welcomed today on the Territory of Treaty #4 and in the homeland of the Metis. Warmest greetings to all from Prime Minister Trudeau and the Government of Canada. Greetings as well from Senator Murray Sinclair, former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Thank you to the grandmothers for their Ceremony. Thank you to the Long Creek Singers who will perform. Thank you to the children and all others who will participate in what is about to transpire.
Let me also acknowledge Nadeem Islam who has represented the former private sector owners of this property. And the Reverend Amanda Currie who is representing the Presbyterian Church of Canada.
It is a LITTLE piece of Prairie land.
But for more than a hundred years – through frigid cold and winter snows, spring thaws and crocuses, summer winds and rain and searing heat, tall grasses and freeze-up once again – this little piece of land has been the resting place of more than 35 children who were taken from their families and communities, and who died at the Regina Indian Industrial School.
There were more. More than 500 pupils were sent to this school, taken from some 43 different communities across the West, but mostly Saskatchewan, between 1891 and 1910. At least 48 died in just the first six years.
So this is a place of deep human tragedy.
Colonial policy and then Canadian policy sought to obliterate the livelihoods and rights, the culture and identity of Indigenous people. Most hideously, in the name of “civilizing” Indigenous children, they were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to residential schools like RIIS.
They faced harsh conditions, poor nutrition, poor health standards, disease and corporal punishment. Many are buried in unmarked graves.
The Regina Indian Industrial School was closed in 1910. It became a jail and then a juvenile home for boys. It burned down in 1948. All that remains is this little piece of cemetery land. Ownership has changed hands many times. Industrial and commercial activity has encroached. But still, this little piece of land with its white fence and some flowers and ribbons has endured.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Call to Action #75 has laid out the importance of protecting and preserving sites like this – to properly and respectfully memorialize the children who never came home.
Dedicated individuals like Janine Windolph, and Sarah Longman, and Elders like Noel Starblanket, and Chiefs like Barry Kennedy, have worked very hard to keep the issue in the public mind. Walks and vigils and commemorations were organized over several years.
I heard about the RIIS Cemetery repeatedly from the Mayor, and from community activists like Don Black and Mary Jesse. I remember very clearly a vigorous meeting with the Association several years ago at St James United Church. Something needed to be done, they said.
Both the city and the province declared the cemetery to be a heritage site. Plaques were erected. But still the property was privately owned and not dedicated in a fully appropriate manner.
On one of my several visits here, a solution began to take shape. The land directly adjacent to the cemetery is federal Crown land under the control of the RCMP. I suggested to former Commissioner Paulson that maybe he could consider a swap – so the private landowner could have access from Pinkie Road to the rest of his property, but the RCMP could take over the cemetery, and then gift that site to the Commemorative Association.
It sounds simple enough, but you wouldn’t believe how complex federal land transactions can be.
I want to thank Commissioner Paulson, and his successor, Commissioner Lucki, and the financial officers within the RCMP and the diligent administration in the Treasury Board of Canada. They persisted. They got through all the red tape. The exchange has been completed.
And today, as a gesture of reconciliation and goodwill by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Commissioner Lucki is here in person to mark the final transfer of this Cemetery to the permanent safe-keeping of the Regina Indian Industrial School Commemorative Association.
This sacred land will now be properly maintained, conserved and commemorated under their protection.
I want to pay tribute to all the Indigenous peoples and community members who have struggled for so long and worked so hard to reach this goal. In particular, I commend the Commemorative Association for all their initiatives leading to this day, and for their on-going future commitment to keep this a safe and sacred spot.
Collectively, we acknowledge the injustices of the past. We begin to repair what we can. And we take an important step forward on the pathway of reconciliation.
May the children rest in peace. And may their families find some healing.
Miigwetch. Merci. Thank you.