‘Tip of the iceberg’: 6 potential unmarked graves found near former Pine Creek residential school

After the discovery of six potential unmarked graves near a former residential school in western Manitoba, the Pine Creek First Nation chief believes the current findings are only the tip of the iceberg.

Chief Derek Nepinak says the potential graves were detected in early May by AltoMaxx staff.

Following a ground-penetrating radar search beneath a Catholic church near the former school, six anomalies were reported.

Read more: Group forms to support Indigenous-led searches of residential school burial sites in Manitoba

Despite pending confirmation regarding the nature of the anomalies, the ‘horror stories’ linked to the church are enough to sound alarms in the community.

“It’s very difficult news for our community,” he says. “We have a lot of families that have a very strong historical ties to the Catholic Church, of course. And like many Indigenous communities across the country, you know, there’s a lot of spiritual allegiances to the Catholic Church that we have to be mindful of, and we have to navigate this discussion very carefully.”

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Nepinak says the findings have provoked a wide range of emotions for Pine Creek First Nation residents.

“There’s been a lot of anger and resentment towards the church in that regard. At the same time, there are people who are focusing on forgiveness and families that are trying to forgive and move forward into a future that’s more promising than what we’ve lived through as a community.”

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Nepinak says the search is only in its initial phases and expects further searches will uncover more in the coming weeks.

“Hand-in-hand with the actual physical search, we do have archival research that’s being conducted, which is identifying every single student, according to the lists had been provided historically going back to 1890, a list of every single student that attended the school. And we’re also trying to cross-reference records of deaths that happened at the school. So we know that there are a significant number of of unmarked graves in the area that we are going to be speaking of in the coming weeks.”

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The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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