Seeking truth at site of former Holy Angels Residential School in Fort Chipewyan

The Holy Angels "school" was founded 1874 at Fort Chipewyan. (NCTR Archive).

 (Fort Chipewyan, AB, March 2, 2022) – The leadership of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) and Fort Chipewyan Métis Association (FCMA) have partnered to begin the on-site process of identifying burial and grave sites related to the Holy Angels Residential School in Fort Chipewyan, AB.

ACFN Chief Allan Adam said: “While our Nation, and all those who live in Fort Chipewyan, have always known of the terrible tragedies that have occurred in our community, it is only in recent months that we have received the provincial and federal support we need to move forward in a meaningful way. The findings across Canada of unmarked, previously unidentified, and horrifying mass burials of children who attended residential schools shocked many Canadians, but they did not shock Indigenous people. ACFN, MCFN and FCMA have been working in collaboration to begin the process of finding the truth in our community, and we are now ready to move into the next phase at the site of the Holy Angels Residential School.”

The Holy Angels Residential School was in Fort Chipewyan, AB and operated from 1874 to 1974, approximately one hundred years. The old school site is located on what is now the Mikisew Cree First Nation’s reserve.

“The first step towards reconciliation is truth,” said Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Peter Powder. “This work in Fort Chipewyan, which will include collecting testimonials from Elders, aerial photography, ground penetrating radar and other methods, is critical to uncovering the truth about Holy Angels Residential School. We know what we find might be devastating; but we also know we must seek the truth.”

The deaths of 89 children attending the school between the years of 1880 and 1953 have been confirmed by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. This search will assist in identifying any additional deaths and burial sites that have not been previously confirmed.

“We know this journey will be painful for many in our community,” said President Kendrick Cardinal, Fort Chipewyan M tis Association. “While we have always heard the stories and knew that terrible things had occurred to our people at this residential school, this search and the eventual findings may cause fresh trauma and pain. In consultation with Elders and our community, we believe that seeking the truth about the residential school is a necessary step in addressing the intergenerational trauma that the residential school experience has created for so many Indigenous people.”

ACFN, MCFN and FCMA are grateful for the support of Fort Chipewyan community members, in particular former Holy Angels Residential School students, as this search is conducted, and the community works towards truth, healing and reconciliation.

“We could not undertake this step without the support of our community and former Holy Angels students,” said Chief Peter Powder. “This search will have deep and lasting impacts and repercussions, and we want ACFN, MCFN, and FCMA members to know that we are there for them to help them through this difficult journey.”

“This will not be an easy path for our community,” said President Kendrick Cardinal, Fort Chipewyan Métis Association.“We begin this search with heavy and sad hearts that this is necessary at all. We ask all community members to hold space in particular for former Holy Angels students who continue to experience the impacts of their experience in their lives every day.”

“The residential school children who were buried across Canada without ceremony, without care, without love and without their families deserve so much more,” said Chief Adam. “We want to ensure that any children buried in this manner at the Holy Angels Residential School site are given the dignity, the respect and especially the love that every child deserves, and we want to ensure they are never forgotten in the way that Canada forgot about them for decades.”

The project will be launched on March 31, 2022, in Fort Chipewyan.

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