Photo courtesy of Manfred Joehnck

A small graveyard containing the remains of about 35 residential school children was officially designated a provincial heritage property today.

The cemetery, which is located on the western outskirts of Regina, brought together First Nations leaders, residential school survivors and politicians for the official dedication ceremony.

To get to this point, it has been years of work for Janine Windolph and the Regina Indian Industrial School Commemorative Association. It all began five years ago, when Windolph learned some of her relatives were buried there. Last year, Regina city council gave the site heritage designation. Today, the province followed suit, ensuring the small cemetery will be preserved, protected and enhanced. It was an emotional day for Windolph.

“It’s been a long journey, so you certainly feel that weight being lifted today,” she said. “So hence the tears. I was always taught it’s OK to cry, and it’s a way to pray as well, so I’m OK with my tears.”

The minister responsible for Heritage Saskatchewan, Ken Cheveldayoff, says the residential school cemetery is the first in the province to receive this type of designation. He says recognizing the site is part of the reconciliation process, but he says there is more to it than that.

“More importantly, to recognize and pay tribute to those children that lost their lives between 1890 and 1910, an important part of our history in the province of Saskatchewan,” he said.

The building that housed the residential school was eventually destroyed by fire in 1948, and with it, the records of the children buried in the cemetery.

The site will get some much needed sprucing up, including a new fence and a commemorative stone. An application has also been filed to have it declared a federal heritage property, a process that will take about two years.