Muskowekwan First Nation is submitting a formal letter to seek nomination as a National Historic Site to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
The Muscowequan Residential School site evolved over time. Initially constructed of wood in 1886, it was replaced by a sizable stone structure in 1895 housing over 100 students annually. The main stone structure burned and was replaced in 1931 by the substantial brick structure that we see today in 2020. This building was designed by the Government of Canada’s then residential school architect Roland Orr. It is an imposing, institutional colonial era structure that symbolizes a history described by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as one that contributed to a systemic cultural genocide. In this regard the Muskowekwan First Nation feels strongly that the Muscowequan Residential School story needs to be commemorated and told in perpetuity so that this history can never be forgotten.
The school was operated by the Catholic Church’s Oblate Fathers, Grey Nuns and Oblate Nuns until 1969 when it was taken over by the federal government of Canada. It continued operating until final closure in 1997. During that span of time an estimated 10,000 indigenous children from ages 5 to mid- teens were placed in the Muscowequan Residential School. These children were taken from their families under forced compliance to the IRS sytem. They came to Muscowequan from First Nations communities across central Saskatchewan and from as far north as Dene territory.
This building is the last remaining intact residential school in Saskatchewan. Significantly too, it is one of the few remaining in Canada of the 139 former residential schools that comprised the culturally damaging school system that was imposed upon indigenous peoples across Canada.
Guided by the TRC’s Calls to Action and by our Elders, our Council and community members, Muskowekan First Nation intends to repurpose the historic residential school building and the site into a place of commemoration, healing, and cultural learning.
There are an estimated sixty or more unidentified, unmarked graves of indigenous children who died at this school on the site. It is our intent to honour and commemorate these children who never made it home to their families through annual commemoration, and a permanent memorial at the site.
To date, Muskowekwan First Nation has undertaken documentation and preliminary stabilization of the former residential school building as essential preliminary work to the larger project of preserving and repurposing the building and site.
Documentation and research work has been done in partnership with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (University of Winnipeg) Carlton University Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism (laser scan documentation and Studio design work producing design options for the repurposed centre) , University of Alberta and University of Saskatchewan departments of Anthropology ( ground-penetrating radar to locate human remains of missing and unidentified children ) and Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation, and Saskatchewan Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport, Historic Places Program (2016 condition assessment and grant to seal the building from weather and potential vandalism)
In 2017, the National Trust for Canada listed the former Muscowequan site on it’s annual list as one of the Top 10 Endangered Places In Canada.
All of this work, and support has inspired and motivated us to move forward with accomplishing our vision for this site.
We look forward to working with the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration to commemorate the former Muscowequan Residential School site as a national place of memory, conscience and historical importance for all Canadians to appreciate and learn from.
This is a very important project for the people of Muskowekwan First Nation, for indigenous people across Canada, and for non-indigenous people. We want people to come and experience and learn from this very moving and evocative historic place.
To: Members of Muskowekwan First Nation
From: Chief and Council of Muskowekwan First Nation
Date: July 15, 2019
The purpose of this Bulletin is to provide membership with a brief factual overview of the four claims our First Nation is currently pursuing through the Specific Claims Process and the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench. Every month, Chief and Council will provide a detailed overview that focuses on one of the Claims discussed in this Bulletin. These regular updates will provide information on both the substance of the the Claims and their procedural status.
Treaty 4 Agricultural Benefits Claim (1874-Present)
Under the terms of Treaty 4, Canada made a series of promises to signatory bands, including the provision of the following "Agricultural Benefits": hoes, spades, ploughs, harrows, scythes, axes, cross-cut saw, hand saw, pit saw, necessary files, a grindstone and augers, a chest of ordinary carpenter's tools, wheat, barley, potatoes and oats, oxen, a bull, and cows. The Crown was also required to provide instruction in agriculture to assist in the transition to an agricultural economy. In failing to provide the full slate of Agricultural Benefits and assistance, Canada breached Treaty 4, as well as its fiduciary and honourable duties. This Claim will be submitted to the Specific Claims Branch in the coming months.
Railway Expropriation and Contamination Claim (1906)
In late 1905, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company (GTP) applied to the Department of Indian Affairs to construct its railway line through the Muskowekwan Reserve. By Order in Council dated May 12, 1906, 164.8 acres of the reserve were granted to the GTP for a right of way and station grounds. The Claim alleges the Crown breached its statutory and fiduciary duties to the First Nation in relation to the taking, and further that the Crown breached its fiduciary duty by allowing contamination of reserve lands. This Claim will be submitted to the Specific Claims Branch and filed in the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench.
1910 and 1920 Surrender Claim
Before the GTP was granted a right of way, it had also applied to the Department of Indian Affairs to purchase 640 acres of the Muskowekwan Reserve for a townsite next to its station grounds. On March 7, 1910, Indian Agent William Murison obtained a surrender for sale of approximately 160 acres for a townsite. On October 14, 1920, Commissioner W.M. Graham obtained a second surrender for sale of the eastern three rows of sections of the reserve, totalling 7,485 acres. The Claim alleges the Crown failed to uphold its pre- and post-surrender statutory and fiduciary obligations to the First Nation in relation to both surrenders. This Claim will be filed in the Specific Claims Tribunal in the coming months.
Mismanagement of Trust Claim
The First Nations comprising the Touchwood Hills Agency - Muskowekwan, Day Star, George Gordon, and Kawacatoose - are advancing a specific claim against Canada for the mismanagement of trust funds held in account of the Touchwood Agency between 1920 and 1924. This Claim will be filed in the Specific Claims Tribunal in the coming months.
We hope you found this preliminary overview of assistance and look forward to providing ongoing Bulletins on these Claims in the coming weeks. Our legal counsel on these Claims, Maurice Law Barristers & Solicitors, will be attending a series of community meetings in December 2019 to provide in-person updates and answer your questions.