PIIKANI NATION, AB – There are many stories about residential schools from coast-to-coast in this country and the Piikani Nation here in southern Alberta is no different.
Troy Knowlton, who’s a Piikani Councillor, says it’s important people understand what went on within these schools.
He says Chief and Council on the reserve west of Lethbridge has approved moving ahead with looking to see if there are any unmarked graves on the Piikani Nation with links to residential schools.
“I believe there are four sites we are concentrating on,” says Knowlton. “In conjunction with the University of Lethbridge we are doing what’s called air-penetrating radar. So we will have aircraft flying over designated areas that we’ll GPS. They’ll do the ground-penetrating radar from there and look for anomalies outside the designated burial grounds.”
Canada’s dark history with residential schools has been front and centre in recent weeks after the discovery of the bodies of 215 children at a former school site in Kamloops, BC.
Knowlton says the Piikani Nation is moving forward to conduct its own investigations looking at the burial sites and plots and cross-referencing them with the documented evidence of those who died while attending the schools and try and find explanations for some of the undocumented ones.
He says there are many stories about kids being hauled off to residential school and never returning home and families don’t have any documentation of a death.
Knowlton points to one story on the Piikani Nation where a young girl when to a local residential school with her sister back in the late 1920’s or early 30’s. The sister died while at school and the family was never given a proper explanation of how she died or what happened to the child after she passed away.
On a personal note, Knowlton tells a story as to how members of his own family were taken to residential school.
“My aunt said this. She said when the RCMP came with the Indian agent, your grandfather ran into the woods, his older brother hid under the bed and when they first went into the cabin my aunt said I stood there and watched them chase your grandfather into the woods. They pulled your uncle out front underneath the bed by his ankles. The Indian agent came up to her with a blanket and threw that blanket over her. She approximates her age at around 4, 5, or 6 and took her out into the wagon and off to school they went,” Knowlton explained in an interview this week with MyLethbridgeNow.com.
Knowlton says the Piikani Nation stands together with all First Nations which experienced the genocidal effects of residential schools and the atrocities committed against Indigenous children. He would like to see the Catholic Church not be so reluctant to offer a public apology for its role in these schools and for the federal government to do more beyond having offered compensation for survivors.