Was Lac La Biche Mission a Residential School?
Yes. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns ran a federally funded residential school from 1893 to 1898.
Why do you always mention the years it operated?
It is important to understand that the school did not shut down after 5 years. It was moved to Saddle Lake due to the fact that the buildings were seen to be in poor condition and the Mission was becoming increasingly difficult to reach by road in comparison with other, more developed areas. Later in 1931 the school moved to St. Paul where it became the University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak, or Blue Quills. Ultimately, understanding the short period the Mission Residential School operated in and the relatively low number of students is key to understanding the challenges we face in learning about them, as will be covered in another question.
Why are you still charging for tours?
As a non for-profit historical society we have no affiliation to the clergy or administration of the Mission or its Schools. Any proceeds from guided tours of the site help us conduct research, mount exhibitions, run programs, and maintain our historic buildings for future generations.
What happened with the Mission afterwards?
With the arrival of the Daughters of Jesus in 1905, a new boarding school opened. This school did not receive any federal funds, attendance was not compulsory, and its students came from a variety of European and Indigenous backgrounds. Testimonials with local students who attended the school speak to the differences between it and the Residential School, but ultimately also to some of the struggles they shared. This boarding school closed in the 1960s.
Will you have the site investigated for unmarked graves?
We are committed to finding out everything we can about the lives and experiences of the students who lived at the site, for better or for worse. Whether this will translate into the use of groundbreaking radar depends on the results of an initial assessment. There are a multitude of factors that delay when this assessment can take place as we will be compared to other sites on the likelihood of uncovering significant findings. The reality is that the complexity of the structural and cultural history of the site, combined with the lack of cohesive archiving practices in the years since its closing, make this endeavour less attractive to those in charge of funding. We are pursuing every option available in this area and will continue to issue updates on our progress.
Why wasn’t any of this done sooner?
We believe it should have. We have never attempted to hide or misrepresent this part of the Mission’s history, but the truth is that more attention should have been paid to researching and understanding it. We have been consulting with members of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation on the wording and content of our residential school exhibition since before these discoveries and we will continue to do so. Our displays are limited to what we can know for sure, and what we know for sure is limited by our ability to fund further research and oral history projects. We share a lot of the frustration in regards to these inherent limitations.