Where the Children Are Buried – The Walrus
Mar. 29, 2023
Thousands of Indigenous children died at residential schools across Canada. This is the story of one community’s search for unmarked graves
Jenny Rose spyglass was three years old when the men came for her. It was September 1944 in present-day west-central Saskatchewan, where the prairie grass grows wild and the contours of the sky seem infinite. Spyglass’s family home—in Mosquito Grizzly Bear’s Head Lean Man First Nation—lay nestled in the Eagle Hills, surrounded by wheat fields, chokecherry, and willow, land roamed by elk, lynx, and coyotes. She lived in one of several Indigenous communities in the vicinity of the Thunderchild Indian Residential School, run by the Roman Catholic Church, some sixty kilometres away.
As Spyglass recalls, her family lived in poverty—her father had recently been deployed by the Canadian military, leaving her mother to care for six children. That fall day, Spyglass remembers, a black vehicle drove up the gravel road and approached her house. A few men emerged: federally appointed Indian agents—who enforced Ottawa’s policies across First Nations reserves and Indigenous communities in Canada—and two priests. The men pointed at Spyglass as her mother pled. “I hung on to my mom,” she says. The men snatched her from her mother’s grip and tossed her, along with her two elder brothers, Martin and Reggie, into the back of the vehicle. During the drive, Spyglass fell asleep and later awoke to children sobbing and gathered near another vehicle. All of them had been torn from their homes in neighbouring reserves—Moosomin, Poundmaker, Sweetgrass, and Red Pheasant, among others—after their parents were threatened with jail or fines if they resisted their child’s attendance at the Thunderchild school. The children were transported to the school, located in what is now Delmas, a remote hamlet off the Yellowhead Highway.
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