(Photo of Lebret Residential School.)
WARNING: Disturbing content.
The Chief Coroner said his service is an active participant in helping identify missing or murdered Indigenous children who attended a residential school in Saskatchewan.
Clive Weighill appeared before a Senate Committee to outline the work already done. Officials there have collected, cataloged and archived written coroner’s records from 1915 to 2015. However some records are incomplete, have very little information or some years are missing. Files after 2015 are now electronic.
The Coroner’s Service has partnered with the National Truth and Reconciliation Centre (NTRC). The Winnipeg-based organization will provide names or descriptive information to the Coroner’s Service to search for possible matches. Weighill testified the Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 620 potential names and that his office completed searches for approximately 400 children.
“A spreadsheet was developed regarding possible residential school deaths of Aboriginal youth. The spreadsheet records file numbers, age and gender, dates of death, place of death and causes of death,” said Weighill. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided their list of approximately 620 persons of potential residential school deaths. Of these, the service was able to search for records relating to about 420 children because sufficient detail had been provided.”
Those records were then provided to the NTRC. Weighill said the discrepancy is partly due to the fact that the coroner would only investigate non-natural deaths. If a child died of illness or disease, the coroner would not have examined that death, so a record may not have been kept.
First Nations in Saskatchewan have been actively searching for potential graves sites at former residential schools. In June 2021, former Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme revealed a ground-penetrating radar search of the former Marieval Residential School detected 751 anomalies. In January 2023, the Star Blanket Cree Nation announced the discovery of a child’s jawbone at the site of the former Lebret Indian Industrial School. Officials there said they suspected the bone belonged to a child aged four to six years and dated approximately 125 years ago. The NTRC recorded 56 deaths at the Lebret school.
Weighill said subsequent searches of residential school records found two historical documents from Beauval. He stated that one death from 1954 was labeled natural causes, while an inquest jury in 1927 concluded a fire to have an unknown, non-suspicious cause, killing 19 people.
In September of last year, the Regina Indian Industrial Residential School was included in the archival search. Weighill said birth, death and marriage registers were compared to the Coroner’s Service records, but no additional deaths were discovered.
In December, a further search revealed three more records, which were handed to the NTRC. Weighill stated that Saskatchewan Archives has recently partnered to approach churches to review historical documents for potential names and identifying data, which may be used to help identify missing or murdered residential school children.
Support is available for those affected by their experience at Indian Residential Schools and in reading difficult stories related to residential school. The Indian Residential School Crisis Line offers emotional and referral services 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.