The New Democrats are supporting the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in its call to the federal government to commit to investigating potential unmarked graves at residential schools in the province.

The response comes following the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia.

“The heartbreak is unimaginable,” said Saskatoon Centre MLA Betty Nippi-Albright. “It’s very sad. And for me very triggering, as a residential school survivor to hear this. I spent a good portion of the morning crying because it just kind of started sinking in.”

Nippi-Albright recounted as a child at residential school, she traveled to a neighbouring institution for a track and field competition.

She said other children would speak of unmarked graves of children and babies, but that nobody listened.

“Many of us residential school survivors talked about unmarked graves in the residential schools, and we’re only finally hearing about it now. But mainstream finally picked up. For them to take this on, to look at it. It’s creating that awareness,” explained Nippi-Albright.

The FSIN has indicated that initial sites for radar ground search should include Muskowekwan Indian Residential School (IRS), Onion Lake St. Anthony’s IRS, Beauval IRS, Guy Hill IRS, Lebret IRS and Sturgeon Landing IRS. There were approximately 20 residential schools in Saskatchewan.

The flags at the Legislative Assembly building were lowered to half-mast and shoes and orange shirts were placed on the front steps of the Legislature, as residents in Regina showed their support for the discovery in Kamloops.

“The discovery of the remains of these 215 children is a haunting reminder of the horrific reality that too many Indigenous children faced a stark example of the grim legacy of residential schools in our nation,” Premier Scott Moe said.

Moe said he spoke with FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, Assembly of First Nations Nation Chief Perry Bellegarde and former residential school survivors in his constituency of Rosthern-Shellbrook, about the need to work collaboratively to investigate unmarked graves in the province as this will bring some closure to families of missing children.

“Sadly, this is not an exception, or an isolated incident. We’re not going to hide from that. We have to acknowledge the truth. Residential Schools were a reality, a tragedy that existed here in our country. And we have to own up to it. Kids were taken from their families returned, damaged or not returned at all with no explanations until this week. People are hurting and we must be there for survivors,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

“It saddens me that it’s 2021 and that those children were not given the proper burial. And families were not given the opportunity to say goodbye, it saddens me and breaks my heart. I hope that I never ever see another thing like this happening, because I have grandchildren. And for them, I can’t imagine ever going to this is. Its bad enough I went to residential school and lived through it. I can’t imagine my children or my grandchildren ever going through that,” an emotional Nippi-Albright said.

(Written by Dan Jones)