Rev Craig Miller offers these updates from the shared Indigenous and non-Indigenous work on the site of the former Brandon Indian Residential School. As one of the few institutions to offer high school classes, it housed children from all across the Prairies. It was also one of the longest-running institutions, from 1895- 1972. The community-based group working on the cemetery and unmarked burials has also spent many years on research, searches, education, advocacy, and more.

This summer (2021) Knox United Church was approved as a partner on a grant application submitted to the Indigenous Agriculture Science Partnerships Program through Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (federal government). Additional partners include Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and the Brandon Research and Development Centre.
In the application we requested funding to support five areas:

  1. Access to the site: Improve access for those with permission while controlling access to others – gates, grading the road, road improvements, benches for Elders.
  2. Site clean-up and rejuvenation: Remove illegally dumped waste, develop signage to make people aware that this is a sacred site, to commemorate and educate (in multiple languages)
  3. Protect the burial sites: Expand the North Hill burial site fence to include grave currently outside the fence, fence the North-East Fields and East Hill burial sites.
  4. Identify, manage and plant culturally important plants: Conducted vegetation surveys, map plants, look to increase populations with transplants and management, develop a walking route to act as a medicine teaching tool, identify areas near the burial sites for enhanced plantings to honour the children.
  5. Host a cultural feast: Honour of the BIRS survivors and those buried on the site & community consultation. Partner with SVDN for tent rental, transportation, hospitality, support for ceremonial needs, display proposed signage and conduct community consultation during the feast.

The grant for $50k was approved in July. Knox made a commitment to recruit volunteers to assist with the site clean-up/maintenance and raise $5000 for in-kind funding. A donation can be given to Knox, noting that it is for the Brandon Indian Residential School Cemetery Fund. All monies raised will go directly to the project. Donations info.

Educating in the wider community is also an important commitment for us. I provided images and information from the mobile learning centre to Assiniboine Community College, City Hall, Brandon University, Brandon School Division Offices, Vincent Massey High School, and Prairie Hope High School. We also kept images for use at the gathering on 30 September organized by Sioux Valley Dakota Nation.

Truth and reconciliation week in Brandon

The City of Brandon designated 27 September – 1 October as its first “Truth and Reconciliation Week.”

On Monday morning, 27 September, just before sunrise, neighbours gathered at the Riverbank Discovery Centre here in Brandon with Dakota Elder Frank Tacan. The ceremonial fire was lit for the opening ceremony for Brandon’s first Truth and Reconciliation Week.

The air was cool and damp, and people huddled together in small groups until the elder invited us to make a circle and face the direction of the East. We were a group of eighty or so people and it was challenging to recognize everyone in the circle without the aid of more light. Elder Tacan directed us to remove any caps, hoods, or toques to allow the healing light of the sun to touch our heads and faces. We smudged, one by one, and the smell of sage lingered in the air.

A pipe was lit, a prayer was offered, and a drum song carried across the grounds as the sun rose above the tree-lined Assiniboine riverbank. With the arrival of the light we raised our hands and greeted the rays of the Sun, our faces now illuminated, the gift of brother fire. As I looked around the circle I was now able to distinguish the faces of friends and neighbours, and we smiled in a silent greeting as we warmed to the sun and to one another. Finally, the elder made his way around the circle, touching each of us on the forehead with an eagle feather, and offering a word of blessing. I felt my spirit soar as if carried on the eagles’ wings.

All week long fire-keepers tended the sacred fire, keeping it lit. Knowledge keepers and elders shared their wisdom, culture, spirituality, and worldview through a variety of teachings, ceremonies and activities, illuminating the task that is at hand and the truth of their lived experience. It was a new day for Brandon.