Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty hosted several Saskatchewan officials and local Indigenous elders on Monday morning for the official dedication of the residential school memorial site at Government House in Regina.
Mirasty, joined by Premier Scott Moe and opposition leader Ryan Meili, took part in a pipe ceremony to mark the area that will soon house a permanent monument honouring those who have and continue to suffer due to residential schools.
“[I have] mixed feelings because every time we talk about residential schools, there’s a sadness to those stories,” said Mirasty. “But I also know, because I’m a second generation residential school survivor, that what I hear is so important.”
The memorial was announced earlier this year in January as a response to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. Once built, the monument is meant to serve as a quiet space for residents to visit to think about the impact residential schools have had on themselves and others.
Mirasty has been consulting with residential school survivors, their families and Indigenous elders throughout the design process.
“[We’re] just making sure that we follow the proper path, protocol and ceremonies to make sure that the ground that this memorial will sit on has been blessed in the right way,” said Mirasty.
Mirasty said he feels the dedication is a positive first step forward on the project, which was echoed by Moe during his statements to the press.
“Not all of our past as Canadians is pleasant,” added Moe. “It’s incumbent on us to take that walk together, and to me, this is a great step for that.”
Creating a monument to the suffering caused by residential schools on government grounds is an extremely important gesture, said Mirasty.
“There’s a sacred relationship between Indigenous people and the Crown, which predates the province,” said Mirasty. “And that relationship is key in terms of recommending the location [but also it’s] a place that’s quieter or a place where people can come and contemplate their own experience.”
The site dedication held weight for many in attendance, including musician and storyteller Joseph Naytowhow.
“To me, this is like a confirmation of what maybe the rest of Canada needs to experience,” said Naytowhow, who took part in the ceremony. “This is a start, because it’s not often you have the three political parties in one tipi, sitting on the ground, the earth.”
He hopes the memorial site will serve as a place of reflection for those who visit, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, on their role in addressing the calls to action.
“People really need to think about what their response ought to be,” said Naytowhow.
The request for proposal process to begin physical work on the monument remains open, so no timeline for construction has yet been determined. Currently, the site is marked by a permanent tipi, which Mirasty said has never stood at Government House before.
“Opening that door and providing avenues for education for all the visitors we do get here, during the year, really adds much more importance and significance to the work,” said Mirasty.
The ceremony follows a recent announcement from the provincial government to commit $2 million in funding to search former residential school sites in the province.
Both the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and the provincial government are now calling on the federal government to match the province’s funding.