Former Delmas residential school grounds to be searched with ground penetrating radar this weekend

Warning: This story containts details some readers may find distressing.

Another former residential school site in Saskatchewan will be searched with ground penetrating radar. 

The Delmas residential school grounds, located about 30 kilometres west of North Battleford, are to be searched this weekend.

A news release published by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indigenous Nations, which represented First Nations in Saskatchewan, said the Battleford Agency Chiefs Tribal Council was to start the work tomorrow morning. 

After equipment is smudged, work will start at 9 a.m. CST Saturday. Work is expected to continue into Sunday. 

The news release said members of the public were welcome to attend the search. Therapists will be on-site and a safe space will be created for survivors to gather.

The Delmas residential school, also called the St. Henri, or Thunderchild Indian Residential School, started operating in 1901 and shuttered in 1948 after it burned down.

WATCH | Thunderchild Indian Residential School survivor describes the night the school burned down

According to an RCMP investigation report from the time, the fire started in a cupboard where custodians kept their tools. The nun who discovered the fire tried to throw water on it but was forced out by thick black smoke.

The provincial fire investigator believed the fire might have been set intentionally and asked RCMP to question four teenage boys. However, the boys claimed they had nothing to do with the fire, and the case was eventually dropped due to lack of evidence.

The school, like that in Cowessess, where ground penetrating radar was conducted earlier this summer and revealed hundreds of unmarked graves, was operated by oblates. 

Death rates were high in the overcrowded school, according to Shattering the Silence: The Hidden History of Residential Schools in Saskatchewan, a report written by the University of Regina’s faculty of education.

According to a paper prepared for the Law Commission of Canada, 15 per cent of the students at the school died in 1928, a rate of up to five times the provincial average for non-First Nations students.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who never came home or residential school staff and operations? Email your tips to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: